Client claims things got stolen ...

8 Replies

Hello everyone. I’m working as a sub at one project with multiple phases that seems to drag forever. We have a lockbox set up as usual for the main contractor’s project manager (Saleman), his runner, and of course my crews. Since it’s multiple phases, I’ve been sending multiple crews there to work for the last 2 months. All my crew members’ve been with me from the start (some for 5, some for up to 16 years). Yesterday customer sent a message to the project manager and me claiming at least 4 items got stolen from his house. I’m really stunt, and speechless. We never have that happening on my own projects in the past - not saying my crews are 100% trustworthy because I can’t warranty for anyone else other myself. But I do trust them! It puts us in an odd position where we have multiple parties having access to the lockbox, but my crews are there >90% of the time. I really don’t know how to react to this. The PM suggested client to make a police report, but I think it’s irrelevant. The trust factor is now broken no matter what because the house is not broken in. *sigh*. Not a very good feeling right before the holidays. I think total loss is about a couple of grand. We can certainly give client replacements/money. However, that would also means we admit of wrongdoing. Also on our side, how do you handle the news with crew members?! I guess the best you can do is announcing it. I can’t imagine doing detective work with my guys since no evidence.... How would you possibly stop/reduce the chance of this happening going forward?! Thanks.

This is why you need licensed and bonded people. I would encourage the owner to make a police report and let all your workers know it was reported.

Yes.  Client needs to file a police report.  Let the police handle it.  They may interview your guys, and it may shake loose who took it if it was one of yours.

I’ve been in this position from an investigative standpoint. With 2-3 suspects and a definite time the crime occurred questioning works great (got 20k in jewelry returned). With the the numbers you have involved over two months... I’d want you to give me names and DOBs. I’d see if anyone was on probation or parole, maybe check criminal history and go from there. Not gonna get too in the weeds with so many possibilities (including a possible false accusation). As far as trust, you trust you guys to do a great job, but how many of them can walk by $5000 if they think they can get away with it?

Tell the client to file a police report. Period. If the client declines, fire yourself off the job because things are going to go straight to crazy town. 

Consider stopping the job until the matter is resolved. 

I once had a customer accuse of us theft of the most absurd type. (Said we stole a beat up old sofa from a house we were gutting)... it was a prelude to the worst client experience ever. I fired myself off the job, and he then went through 5 more contractors to finish..m eventually denying payment to most of them and suing all of them. 

As a homeowner/investor, this is my 2 cents. I recently finished a full house rehab. None of my personal possessions were in the house, only materials and supplies. However, during the renovation process some items went missing; nothing super expensive, but on a full house rehab every penny counts. Owners need to take responsibility as well. Some lessons learned for future projects...

  • I will give access to the lockbox to the PM and only the PM. He/She is accountable and responsible. If they give access to others, the PM is still accountable. I expect the PM to be on the site first thing in the morning to ensure the subs show up, and at the end of the day to ensure tasks were completed properly and on time. Subsequently, the PM should lock and unlock the house. 
  • I will rent a storage container to be positioned in the backyard and place all items that are not going to be used immediately in the storage container. If an item is purchased by the PM or a sub, the PM or sub is responsible for that item. If I purchase an item, I will have it on a materials list, and I will sign off that I provided that item and the PM will sign off that he received that item. He is now accountable for said materials. 
  • I will have a security camera in the house to monitor if anyone attempts to break in during the night. It may also help to identify if any items walk away during the work hours. 

On future projects you may want to have a preliminary conversation with the PM and/or homeowner to establish expectations regarding personal property. It is always good to CYA.

Part and parcel of our standard contract for work is a disclaimer saying that the owner shall leave no material or possessions on site that they would cry over if it gets lost, dusty, or damaged. 

We go to pretty extreme lengths to make sure that everyone on site is the honest sort with no criminal background, but... stuff happens. 

Also, jobs need to run lean. No materials on site before they need to be used. Off site warehouse for fixtures. Minimize the opportunity for human error. 

Thanks for all solid inputs everyone.  I talked to half of the crews.  Will definitely address everyone, including HO and PM after New Year break.  There are some very good suggestions I will implement for sure.

@Nhi Nguyen As usual, @Aaron McGinnis has great input, putting a clause that all valuable possessions must be removed from jobsite prior to job start. Theft is unavoidable unfortunate, but it can be minimized. The problem is you are a sub and it does not matter if you are there 100% of the time, a 1-time 1-man cleaner could have done it. Lockboxes are simply there for convenience, but since you don’t have exclusive access, i say not to worry about it. The owner should have removed valuables in the first place, and/or there should insurance covering it.

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