Fee disputes with home contractors are not uncommon. In most cases, they can be worked out with negotiation or mediation, but some homeowners find they have no choice but to sue. If successful, the court might award money to cover you for damage the contractor caused or for a return of the amount you paid, if you didn't receive full or adequate work on your home per your original agreement.
Winning your case in court isn't the end of the story, however. The contractor may not follow through and pay the amount ordered by the judge. Is it worth it to chase your home contractor down for the money?
It can be extremely frustrating to win a lawsuit only to realize that you still need to chase after the deadbeat contractor. Most established businesses will pay their judgments after losing in court, because they want to maintain favorable relationships with banks and lenders and avoid one-star reviews on websites such as Yelp.
For some businesses, though, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes that’s because they simply don’t have the cash on hand to pay the judgment. Other times, it’s because they hope that you will be dissuaded by the difficulty and decide not to pursue them.
If your contractor finally picks up the phone or shows other signs of being responsive, you might try working out a payment plan, whereby the contractor agrees to pay the judgment over a series of months. The contractor may appreciate this courtesy, and it might make the large judgment seem manageable.
If your contractor continues to be nonresponsive, your calculus is more difficult.
You can return to your county clerk and ask about your state’s judgment-enforcement process. In most states, this involves either filling out a garnishment application or sending an informational subpoena to your contractor forcing disclosure of the business's assets.
This will require at least one additional notice to your contractor that you are really intending to collect on your judgment; this alone might scare him into paying.
If the contractor still does not pay up, and assuming the court ultimately approves your request to garnish or “attach” certain bank accounts or property, you will likely need to retain a third-party collections company to pursue those assets.
Such companies typically charge fees; either flat fees, or a certain percentage of whatever they collect. This will be in addition to court fees (usually not too onerous) that you’ll pay for the filing of the garnishment application.
Also consider your time and effort in filling out these documents and communicating with the court and the collections company. All of this is time-consuming. You’ll need to think carefully about whether the amount of your judgment is really worth all of that time and energy. But if you have a judgment for a large amount of money, the time and fees are more likely to be worthwhile. You might, after all, be ultimately successful!