What is a contractor’s legal recourse if a homeowner will not pay a bill in full?

UPDATED: Mar 28, 2011

Advertiser Disclosure

It’s all about you. We want to help you make the right legal decisions.

We strive to help you make confident insurance and legal decisions. Finding trusted and reliable insurance quotes and legal advice should be easy. This doesn’t influence our content. Our opinions are our own.

Get Legal Help Today

Compare Quotes From Top Companies and Save

secured lock Secured with SHA-256 Encryption

What is a contractor’s legal recourse if a homeowner will not pay a bill in full?

Our company has done major painting for a homeowner. After paying 2 invoices he is now refusing to pay outstanding invoices saying our work is not good. We have sent the homeowner 6 invoices, 2 of which he paid in a timely fashion and in full. After billing him 4 more times, he is refusing to pay saying the work we did was not good and refusing to pay anymoney due. I have stated that you can’t just up and decide not to pay invoices if you’re not happy. He has never approached us complaining of the workmanship. We have no signed agreement, but a verbal “time and material” and the history of the payment that he made. Other than that, we have no signed contract. What is our recourse? Even though we have nothing signed, can we still collect whats owed?

Asked on March 28, 2011 under Business Law, New York


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

Ano oral, or verbal, agreement is enforceable, though as you can imagine, providing it's terms--i.e. what is owed under it--can be difficult, especially if it should also be the case that there are no good (not good enough) time records.

However, at the same time, not getting acceptable work is often a ground to not pay. In this case, we're not talking about deciding that it's not as good as you hoped; we're talking about significant issues, like the former paint color showing through, paint starting to peel right away, paint being bubbled or uneven, etc. If these conditions exist, the customer may have a defense to payment, or at least an offset against payment, since a contract is a two-way street; the customer must get acceptable work completed before he must pay.

The way to recover money if you feel someone owes you is a legal action. You need to weigh what you feel you are owed vs. the quality of evidence or proof and also whether and to what degree there may be significant issues with work, before deciding whether or not to sue.

In the future, always use a written contract; a lawyer can draw up  a template for you which you then easily fill out or even modify for each client, if you like.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although AttorneyPages.com has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

Get Legal Help Today

Find the right lawyer for your legal issue.

secured lock Secured with SHA-256 Encryption