You’re seeing to your home’s upkeep, and you need to call a contractor. But before you do, you should ask yourself: do I know all there is to know about negotiating a renovation contract? Take this quick test to separate the truth from the popular misconceptions among the following statements.

Habitation - Trucs et conseils - Rénovation : contrat et garantie

A contractor can demand a down payment of 25%.
The contractor can’t demand it, because there is no official rule specifying the amount of any down payment.

If the contractor is not an itinerant merchant (travelling salesperson), he or she may ask for a down payment, and it is up to you to negotiate the amount or refuse. We recommend that you suggest the lowest possible amount, and spread out the subsequent payments according to the progress of the work.

The law forbids an itinerant merchant (see the definition under Section 55 of the Consumer Protection Act) from asking for a down payment.

Yesterday I signed a contract for a roof repair in my home, but I’m having second thoughts. Good thing I can cancel the contract any time in the next 10 days.
That’s true, but it wouldn’t necessarily be so in the case of a kitchen renovation, for example. More specifically, the time limit applies only if the contractor is an itinerant merchant.

The Consumer Protection Act states that an itinerant merchant must allow the consumer to cancel the contract, without charge and without giving any reason, within 10 days after signature. Roofers as well as contractors installing doors and windows, thermal insulation and exterior coverings are automatically considered to be itinerant merchants from the moment they enter into a contract with a consumer, even if it’s the latter who expressly requests the contract.

The Office de la protection du consommateur (OPC) lists another possible situation: the contractor is also considered an itinerant merchant if the contract is signed in your home at your request, but after an initial contact established by the merchant (by telephone or otherwise) seeking authorization or an invitation to visit your home to present a product, prepare an estimate, or meet you for any other purpose.

The contractor is demanding I refund travel expenses! That’s unjustified.
There’s no law preventing a contractor from doing this, but he or she must have informed you of the rates and any extra fees before you entered into an agreement. To avoid any misunderstanding, before having a contractor visit your home, ask whether he or she charges for travel expenses incurred to prepare an estimate or to do the work itself.

Charging for travel expenses is common practice among contractors who respond to service calls, such as plumbers or electricians, since the return trip between their business address and the customer’s home can often take longer than the repair job itself. And don’t forget that a contractor pays any employees he or she may have during their travel time.

I can take up to 30 days to pay the final bill for the work.
Not true. A completed renovation is comparable to goods purchased: once delivered, it must be paid for immediately, or per the agreement stipulated in the contract. If you want to set a deadline for payment after completion of the work, you must agree on it with the contractor, as part of the contract negotiation.

So where does the popular idea of “payment within 30 days” come from? From the fact that if a supplier, worker or subcontractor who worked on a job has not been paid, he or she has 30 days in which to demand a “legal hypothec” (the equivalent in Quebec law of a construction lien) on your property. In other words, your property will serve as a guarantee of payment, regardless of whether you are responsible for the situation.

In its Lump-sum residential renovation contract modelPDF file, the Régie du bâtiment du Québec (RBQ) includes the following clause enabling customers to protect themselves from legal hypothecs:

The customer may withhold _____ % of the total cost of the work. The customer shall pay this amount to the contractor after completion of the work once the latter proves that s/he has paid his/her subcontractors and suppliers.

If, however, the contractor provides you with copies of all necessary receipts for the work in question, you’re immune from this possibility, so you can’t invoke this clause to withhold final payment.

I’m not satisfied with the results, so I can withhold the final payment.
You can’t take justice into your own hands in this way without any further discussion. The contractor could take out a legal hypothec on your home. You can, however, include a “withhold final payment” stipulation in the contract. The same RBQ model contract quoted above includes this clause:

The customer may also withhold an amount equivalent to the value of the work to be performed to rectify defects noted upon acceptance of the work.

The law states, however (in Article 2111 of the Civil Code), that the customer “may not exercise this right if the contractor furnishes him with sufficient security to guarantee the performance of his obligations.”

I’ve found a problem that I think is a hidden defect, but since I bought my home without a legal warranty, it’s up to me to cover the cost of repairs.
False. Remedy is available to you if you can prove that the seller deliberately concealed the defect in question during the pre-purchase inspection of the building.

To find out more

Visit the websites of public organizations devoted to consumer protection or construction, such as the Office de la protection du consommateur and Régie du bâtiment du Québec.

Our thanks to Jean-Jacques Préaux, of the Office de la protection du consommateur, for his contribution to this instalment of Tips & Tricks.