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Can You Sue a Contractor and Get All Your Money Back?: An Interview with Vincent Pallaci of Kushnick Pallaci PLLC

By Vincent Pallaci

Tell us a little bit about your firm and the areas of law that you practice.

The vast majority of our practice relates to construction law. We represent all of the players in the construction field?owners, developers, contractors, design professionals, and more?in just about every phase of construction. On the residential side, we represent homeowners and contractors in reviewing and negotiating construction contracts?both for new construction and remodels?as well as in disputes over the performance of the work. When it comes to homeowner disputes, we also handle a significant number of lien disputes.

What are some of the most types of common contractor disputes for homeowners in New York?

Construction is one of those fields where just about anything can go wrong. Most disputes between homeowners and contractors can usually be traced back to the contract itself. If you signed a bad contract, odds are you will have a problem during construction. Some of the most common disputes on residential construction, in no particular order, include:

  • disputes over "change orders"
  • disputes over delays
  • disputes over quality of work
  • disputes over costs

What are the first steps a homeowner should take if the work on their house was not done properly?

The first step should actually go back to before the work was done improperly because the homeowner should make sure they have a good contract to address improper work. Once the improper work is discovered, you have to follow the contract. Some contracts will have dispute resolution procedures and include things like a "notice to cure" that must be sent in the event of improper work. A key to pursuing a claim for defective work is documenting the condition. Photographs are you friends?take a lot of them. Also keep accurate records of all repair/remediation work so that when the time comes, you can establish your damages. Often the situation also warrants filing a complaint with the County Consumer Affairs office.

When should they consult with a lawyer?

Before the work starts. Spending a little bit of time with a lawyer before you hire a contractor can avoid spending a lot of time and money with a lawyer down the line after something has already gone wrong. But if something does go wrong, speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. A competent construction lawyer can help guide you through the steps to take in terminating the contractor, documenting the claim, and pursuing a complaint with Consumer Affairs. Even if the homeowner is right and the contractor made big mistakes, an improper termination can leave the homeowner without any remedies.

Can you briefly talk about when a homeowner wants to sue a contractor but the work was done properly? Can the homeowner recover all of the money they paid the contractor?

One of the important things to remember when suing a contractor is that winning a lawsuit is different than actual recovery. More often than not, these types of claims are not covered by the contractor's insurance. Therefore, even if the homeowner "wins," recouping the damages can be difficult.

What advice would you give New York homeowners about making payments to contractors?

There are two really important things for homeowners to push for when it comes to payments: first, the payments should be based on the progress of the work, not on any set deadline. The payment schedule should not be front loaded either. Second, never hand over a payment without receiving a lien waiver in exchange. Partial payments should be given in exchange for partial lien waivers, and final payment should be given in exchange for a final lien waiver.

How can people contact you and your firm?

We offer a lot of information on our website www.nyconstructionlaw.com or we can be reached via phone at (631) 752-7100 or e-mail at vtp@kushnicklaw.com.

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About The Author

Vincent T. Pallaci is a founding member of Kushnick Pallaci PLLC and is the firm's...

Phone: 631-752-7100

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