Your Options for Resolving Disputes with Contractors

Categories :: Consumer, Housing > Homeownership

When a conflict arises with a contractor, you have several options.

EASIEST
NO COST
 Kitchen table conference or phone call between you, the homeowner, and contractor. Prepare by looking at your contract. Find any paper records that are important. Bring to the table family members and others. Pick people who have been involved in talking with the contractors. Write down notes in advance so you won’t forget to discuss something important. Listen carefully if the contractor explains something. Even though you are not an expert, you can offer suggestions. You can also offer ideas that other people suggest. If something has made you angry, have this discussion after you have cooled off. Name-calling, tears or other expressions of emotion make others uncomfortable. If others are uncomfortable, positive results and solutions are less likely.
EASY
LOWEST COST
Mediation. A neutral, third person helps the  parties to
  • discuss the situation,
  • find the facts
  • makes sure the parties are really hearing each other,
  • find alternatives to resolve the dispute. In mediation, the parties decide how to resolve the dispute. A mediator can be any neutral person or a trained professional. A neutral person is anyone not connected to either of the parties. Another option is to try a community mediation center. These centers offer a neutral outsider to help resolve the dispute. If you do not reach an agreement in mediation, either side can still go to court.

Time: Avg., 1-3 hours within one week of dispute. However, several sessions may be required.
Cost: Avg. $125-300
Note: Mediation usually works best when the disagreement is still fresh.

INFORMAL
SOME COSTS
Arbitration. During an arbitration, a neutral person:
  • hears both sides,
  • encourages communication
  • gathers the facts of the case
  • then makes a decision.

In Maryland, one option is arbitration. Arbitration is a process where the parties who have the dispute agree that a neutral third party can decide the outcome. The arbitration may be "binding". “Binding” means that the parties also agree that the decision will be final and will not be appealed to a court. This must be agreed upon before the arbitration starts.

Time: 2-10 hours, may take several weeks or more to arrange if there are few arbitrators in your area.

Cost: Avg., $300+ (If you live in an area that has very few arbitrators, then you may have to pay the travel expenses for an arbitrator to come to your area.) Read the Law: Maryland Uniform Arbitration Act, MD Code Courts & Jud. Proc. 3-201 and seq.

Note: The American Arbitration Association provides more in depth information about arbitration on their website.

MORE FORMAL
SOME COSTS

Filing in Small Claims Court.  If a claim is $5,000 or under, you may want to represent yourself and file in small claims court. Prepare by reading the contract. Be ready to point out where the contractor failed. Bring a copy of the signed contract for the judge. Bring any witnesses or papers that prove your point. If pictures would help to describe the problem, bring them. Take notes on the problem and be ready to explain carefully (1) what you think is wrong, (2) why the contractor is at fault and (3) how it can be fixed.

Cost: Service of process fees average about $35 per person to be "served." See the list of court fees
Time: Depending on the county, the small claims process on average can take between two to six months. Sometimes it takes longer.

MOST FORMAL
MOST COSTLY

Hire a business lawyer for negotiation and/or to take the case to court. Parties hire attorneys to negotiate for them. Direct communication between parties difficult or prohibited. End result of legal posturing is a judge’s decision.

Time: May take months or years for formal fact-finding, trial and decision.
Cost: Avg. $500-3,000

Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland State Law Library, 2014.”