Not sure whether builder for garden studio has done a runner. What are my options?
Based in England. This is a bit of a long description, apologies. But I figured it would be worth providing enough context:
I hired a builder to build a garden studio for me last month. I found him on RatedPeople, he had overwhelmingly good reviews (except for one one-star review) and was the only builder who actually showed up to assess the job and provided a fair quote.
I initially hired him to do the foundation only, which he did and after I paid him that was that. I was planning to build the studio myself. About a month later, I realised I needed the studio much sooner so I asked if he'd please quote for the full job again, as I'd like to go ahead and hire him to do the build. I also felt comfortable working with him as he was honest and upfront for the foundation job.
We signed a contract in mid-March and I paid him an initial deposit (about 20% of the total project cost) to order materials and more expensive items like the uPVC doors. In the contract that we signed, the agreement was that I'd pay him in stages, so I'd pay the deposit first, then a further 30% on completion of the timber frame structure. Next would be the roof, the cladding, the doors, electricals, the skim, and finally the decking.
He completed the timber frame structure and at that point I paid him roughly 50% of the total project cost. Then he started working on the roof, and that's when the wheels started coming off. He didn't show up at all last week (w/c 3 April), claiming that he'd got the dates wrong or that the electrician wasn't available to do the wiring on the days when he was planning to work on the roof. During the week before (w/c 27 March) I'd been very understanding when he needed to leave early or postpone a day or two for personal reasons and he was usually quite upfront about it. But by the middle of that week he had stopped giving me a reason as to why he wasn't showing up. Finally, on Thursday morning he told me he was quite ill and had to go to A&E the previous day. I told him that I was sorry he was ill and not to worry about the job, that he needed to get better and that he should let me know when he was ready to continue working. He then asked to come to see me in person on Friday (when he's meant to be very ill) to discuss the project. I told him that he should stay at home if he's ill (he didn't say what was he was ill with) and told him that he could phone me at any time to discuss the project. I didn't hear from him for the rest of Thursday, and so I assumed he was recovering from his illness.
The next morning (Friday 7 April) he asked whether I would be home as he needed to collect some items he'd left at the building site and to take measurements for the electrician. I told him that we'd be out for the day but that he's welcome to collect anything he needed while we were out. That evening, while we were still out, he sent me a text asking for another £1,000 without giving me a reason for why he needed the money. He didn't say whether it was for materials or labour - just that his money was tied up having bought the materials for my garden studio and that he needed extra cash. When I probed a bit, telling him that I wasn't comfortable paying any more until he made more progress on the build, he just said that he understood my discomfort and that he'd find the money some other way (he claimed he needed the money by midnight on Saturday, which was also very strange).
I then asked him on Saturday to please explain what the next planned steps were for the build, because we were clearly off schedule now. Initially he had insisted that the build would be finished by today (13 April) which I thought was very ambitious, so I was prepared for some setbacks. He gave me a breakdown of work to be done this week and assured me that he'd be here on Tuesday (11 April) to continue the work on the roof. On the day, he failed to show up again. After multiple attempts to contact him by phone and text messages, he told me that now he can't continue the work until 18 April.
I'm now doubtful that he intends to finish the work. The new timeframe for completion is 22 April, but he refuses to return my calls or provide a reasonable explanation for these new delays (he's claiming personal issues and health reasons, but unfortunately I suspect it's related to the £1,000 he wanted from me last week, so perhaps he's taken up another job somewhere else). I want to know what my options are in this situation. Part of me no longer trusts him - the way he's behaved makes me think that at any point he could just demand more money upfront and fail to show up whether or not I pay him. I refuse to pay any more until more work is done. But another part of me recognises that to take him to court would be a fairly long process, and if he's short on cash then it's unlikely that I would see any of my money returned (given that he has about 50% of the money for the project, and only about 20% has been finished so far).
I'm looking for any suggestions as to what I should do. Should I stick it out and see whether he turns up next week to complete the build? Or should I tell him that I want to cancel our contract for non-performance reasons, get a new quote from another builder and take this builder to court to reclaim any monies that haven't yet been used on the completed portion of work? I don't believe that the work he's done so far amounts to 50% of the project cost, which I'd already paid him. I'd like to at least recover my deposit, which he told me would be spent on the materials he has supposedly ordered but hasn't yet delivered, e.g., the uPVC doors, cladding, and decking. I'd also be happy for him to just deliver those materials to me and I'll leave it at that.
I have documented every interaction with him so far, from text messages and WhatsApp conversations to bank transfers, photographs of the building site, and have a physical copy of the signed contract.
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