Q: I fired my contractor over shoddy work and now he wants me to sign a release of liability. I’ve already paid him all he was owed. Am I also required to sign a liability release?
Tiffany M., San Jose, Calif.
A: There is absolutely no requirement to sign a liability release form, and experts we spoke with strongly recommend against it.
In fact, in California, a property owner is not required to sign a release of liability form and should not do so if there is a concern about workmanship or other contractual issues, says Melanie Bedwell, public affairs supervisor for the Contractors State License Board of California. Instead, she advocates the homeowner consider filing a complaint with the licensing board.
Angie Whitaker, executive director for the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies, concurred. In light of these experts’ advice, we recommend that consumers in other states decline to sign liability releases and, if work was shoddy, file a complaint with their state licensing board or attorney general’s office.
One contractor we interviewed said that a contractor fired for substandard work should remain liable for the work he did and was paid for. Similarly, any new contractor hired to complete the job should be held liable for the work he or she does.
This topic highlights how critical it is to do your homework before hiring someone to work on a remodeling project. Consider only contractors with positive reviews from consumers and who can provide references. Confirm that the contractor is appropriately licensed, insured and bonded.
A detailed contract is key to a successful project. Be sure to have a written document, signed by both parties, that details all pertinent aspects, from the types of materials used to construction site cleanup. The contract should spell out work and payment timelines, and payments should be timed to project milestones. Also, a contract should establish a process for job changes or additions, penalties for missed deadlines and reasons the contract can be terminated.
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