Contractor clashing with city, not completing project (CA)

2 Replies

Hello everyone. So I got a notice in December from the City of San Mateo's code enforcement unit to replace an exterior wooden staircase at my family's property with one that's up to code. I hired an engineer to draw up the plans in April and also hired his contracting company to do the actual construction which began in May and was supposed to take at a maximum, 2-3 weeks. 

There was an unexpected obstacle in the foundation work and some weather issues which caused some warranted delays, but the rest were due to the contractor's constant missing of deadlines set, their disregard of this project in that it's probably a tiny one compared to the others they're working on, and the back and forth with they city to revise plans and inspections. We had to call them repeatedly for updates as they'd rarely inform us of what was going on, they'd go weeks without sending anyone to work on the job and when they did, it would normally be one person for a couple of hours maybe 2-3 times a week. I was then informed by the contractor that an inspector came by during the final construction phase, that the inspector told them that everything looks good (I've learned that the inspector doesn't have the final say on things), and to just submit the most up to date plans to the City after construction is complete for the final approval. According to the contractor, that final approval should have been quick and over the counter.

Come to find out that the City decided to do a full review of the entire project (the contractor originally said that the particular City engineer assigned to our project is unfriendly and sometimes tough to deal with) and determined that the plans the Contractor submitted do not match the last approved plans that the City's engineer gave him. The Contractor is now extremely upset and stating that everything was approved and that there were no changes done to City's last approved plans. Clearly, there's a miscommunication or disconnect between both sides and so the City engineer asked the Contractor to stop by at the City to discuss. Immediately, the Contractor turned on us, the property owners, and says that the resources for this job have been exhausted and that if we want to move forward, he will start billing us and the visit to the city will cost $495. I've had some issues with him earlier during the job, and threatened to report him to the BBB if he didn't get the project moving. And he responded with "we did 2 revisions to your plans free of charge." We have a contract with him, he's a licensed contractor, and the contract specifically states that they would complete the job for a lump sum, assuming no other additional construction work would be needed. Furthermore, this issue is between him and the City and it's not our problem. Any miscommunications between both sides are not our responsibility.

I'm wanting to get some feedback from others as to how to best move forward. I called the City engineer and he simply restated what he said earlier about the plans not matching. I'm collecting as much information as I can from the City as to what was submitted, when, and by whom because I truly think that the Contractor missed a step and was just not overseeing the project as he should have been. I'll be talking to him this week once I have all the information and will be telling him that his not agreeing to finish the job unless he charges us, is not right. If he doesn't respond to that, I'm thinking of filing a complaint against his company with the California Professional Board of Engineers. However, I'm worried that the delay would cause problems with the City's Code Enforcement department which have been patiently waiting for us to complete this project since December. I really don't want to get fined by them. 

Any advise is welcome. Many thanks! 

Sounds like the job is small for this larger contractor and the city is giving them headaches.

With my clients for retail centers as an example even though the larger property management companies will take on a 10,000 sq ft center their bread and butter is 200k sq ft centers. So if their time is stretched thin they will put more time and effort with results in keeping the 200k sq ft customer happy. They get bigger scale and more income from the larger customer. Meanwhile the smaller investor is the one left with the problems.

The smaller investor often is better suited to find a smaller project contractor where that is their specialty and area of focus ( they like the small jobs and pass on the big ones). The price might be higher in cost but attention to detail of the project and dealing with problems to solve can often be better.   

No legal advice given

@Joel Owens Thanks for your reply. I should note that this contractor does focus on smaller projects. None of the larger contractors I contacted would agree to take on the job.