Residential - Tips & tricks - Don't sign without reading the fine print!

So you finally found the right contractor. The estimate seems satisfactory. He is able to start the work when you want him to and he knows your budget and tastes. Although everything seems in perfect order, you must remember to sign a contract!

Conversations are forgotten…
What should be in the contract? The written stipulations concerning everything that seems important. Here are some items to include.

Contractor’s identification: Everything that concerns the contractor must be included in the contract: business address, telephone numbers, license and liability policy numbers.

Description of the work to be done: The contract should contain a detailed list of all work to be done and the type and quantity of materials required. The more detailed the description, the easier it will be for you to assert your rights while the work is being done. Should a dispute arise, it will also put you on solid legal footing. If a detailed blueprint was done as part of the estimate, insist that it become an integral part of the contract.

Work schedule: Indicate the start and end dates for the work. Have a clause covering consequences if work is not completed on schedule. For example, you could stipulate in writing that the contractor will refund the deposit if work is not finished on the agreed-upon date. You can also come to an agreement on payment by installments when specific parts of the work are complete. All of these aspects can be negotiated.

Guarantees: These must be very explicit! What does the guarantee cover and for how long? If you are sold some elements that come with their own guarantees, ask for the details.

Payment: What are the conditions for payment? Experts recommend that the last payment, approximately 10% to 15% of the total cost, should be payable only when the work is complete. If the work is not entirely satisfactory, this will give you a bargaining chip for negotiations.

Deposit: A deposit is common practice, but it should be negotiated. Try to bring it down to a minimum amount, just in case the contractor goes bankrupt before the work is finished.

But the written word is clear!
Foresee all possible scenarios. Who is responsible for obtaining the necessary municipal permits? Does the quoted amount include removal and disposal of construction debris? Can you cancel the contract? And what would the consequences be?

On that topic: do you know how much time you have to cancel a contract? This is an area where caution is advised. In some cases, because the sale is considered “itinerant” you have ten days to cancel at your discretion from the moment both parties each have a copy of the contract. But this only applies to some cases:

“If the contractor sells you a door, a window, a roof, thermal insulation or an exterior finish as well as the related services, he is legally considered as being an itinerant tradesman and must hold a permit from the Consumer Protection Bureau if the contract is concluded elsewhere than at his address, even if you are the person who requested his services.” 1

If it is not an itinerant sale, there is no pre-set cancellation period other than the one you will have established beforehand in the contract. Therein lies the importance of putting everything in writing… or not to sign anything if you are not entirely sure. Because a signature also means a commitment!

Need more information?
CAA-Quebec members can count on expert advice at all times.
Call 1-888-627-6666

1Bulletin A Propos AP-14, Office de la protection du consommateur, May 1999, page 3.