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Lawyering Up Ain’t Gonna Save You, Buddy

, , , , , | Legal | July 14, 2022

Many years ago, before I got married and had kids, I was renting out my basement as an apartment to one of my good friends. The basement had a full kitchen, a full bathroom, and a washing machine (among other things). My friend notified me immediately if there was a problem and was pretty vigilant about it. I attempted to fix the small things myself, but I needed professionals for larger projects. One such project was his kitchen sink, which had an unstoppable leak at almost every connection.

At the time, my regular plumber had just retired and I hadn’t yet needed a new one, so on his suggestion, I gave the job to a contractor who was one of his oldest friends. The initial survey revealed that the problem was corroded pipes. However, he had to tear up the floor to find the extent of the problem. Combine that with the found problems, and we were already $2000 in — and from what I learned later, that was in fact a good deal for the volume of work. I cut him a check, and he got to work.

The work trapped me in the house for a few days, so on the day our mutual friend had a day off, he agreed to watch the house while they were ripping into the foundation in his bathroom, and I took the opportunity to go grocery shopping for the next week. When I came back, I was greeted by a horrified face from my tenant, who informed me that his friend hadn’t stopped the jackhammer until after he’d smashed through a water pipe, and he hadn’t previously shut off the water. The water damage itself was negligible, but the kitchen sink and washing machine (which weren’t supposed to be affected unless the water was shut off) could no longer get water.

Thankfully, everything above the basement still had water and we could close off the one pipe, so I moved my friend into my guestroom and gave him the guest bathroom until this was resolved; this and friendship were enough to make him not withhold rent, despite him being trapped in the middle of this. However, my now-ex-contractor not only refused to fix this mess without receiving more money, but he also refused to refund my money for this blunder, insisting that what he’d hit was another corroded pipe that would have been replaced anyway. However, the pipe didn’t look corroded to me, so I showed it to my new plumber who confirmed that this pipe was immaculate before someone put a hole in it.

I took this knowledge and got a lawyer.

After dragging his feet with multiple continuances, the contractor and I and our lawyers finally sat down to discuss a deal.

Contractor: “I don’t see why we’re even discussing this. I never even worked on his home!”

My Lawyer: “You’ve billed my client for services already.”

Contractor: “That was for the survey and when we signed the work contract. There was an agreement to work, but I never did more than look.”

His Lawyer: “Not another word, [Contractor].”

Me: “So, who smashed my toilet?”

Contractor: “Not me! I removed it carefully!”

Me: “If you removed my toilet, then you worked on my house.”

Contractor: *Pauses* “Okay, yes, I did that.”

His Lawyer: “Let me handle it from here!”

Contractor: “No, no, let me clarify this. I just got the site ready. I wasn’t the one who caused the damage. I wasn’t even in the state at the time.”

My Lawyer: “Then where were you?”

Contractor: “Upstate at my other house with my wife and kid.”

I later learned that neither of these people existed.

Me: “So, who was in my house?”

Contractor: “One of my guys.”

My Lawyer: “‘One of your guys’? Well, the contract is with you. If you gave the work to someone else, you are still legally responsible for anything that happens.”

Contractor: “But I never signed a contract!”

His Lawyer: “STOP TALKING!”

The two confer for a moment.

His Lawyer: “My client’s willing to settle. He’ll pay $2,000 if you accept.”

Me: “I wanted $2,000 the day he busted my pipe. This is not that day. I have a job you didn’t finish and a new job that’s a direct result of your negligence, and you forced me to get a lawyer to fix this problem. I’ll settle for $12,000.”

Everything I just listed totaled $8,000 in expenses.

Contractor: “That’s over the cap. You can’t sue for that much in this state.”

My Lawyer: “That’s true in small claims court. This is not small claims court. If we go to trial and you lose, I’m certain you’d be paying six figures.”

His Lawyer: “How about $4,000?”

Me: “$12,000.”

I wasn’t dropping my asking price until I heard $8,000. We finally settled at $10,000. Then came the payment plan.

My Lawyer: “What are your client’s assets?”

Contractor: “Just the business.”

Me: “Didn’t you say you have a house upstate? Or rather, another house upstate?”

My Lawyer: “So, we have two houses. Are they paid off?”

Contractor: “‘Paid off’? You’re not taking my houses!”

My Lawyer: “It’ll just be a lien to guarantee payment… unless you decide not to pay, of course.”


Me: “Which makes them perfect for a lien.”


Me: “So it’d be really stupid not to pay.”

My Lawyer: “Would you rather use an automobile?”

Contractor: “MY CAR?!”

The payment was set up so I got half up-front and the other half in installments with the condition that the whole thing was paid off within six months. Even so, it was like pulling teeth to receive payment. My lawyer notified me of new excuses every month as to why the payment was delayed. We had to repeatedly threaten to notify the police that the contractor was violating a court order and to issue a warrant for his arrest or demand to see his bank records to show someone that wasn’t me had been cashing his checks, at which point the check magically showed up. Sadly, I never got the chance to make that call for his arrest or take a house or car from him. I was always hopeful that there’d be a way to make him really suffer for this nonsense.

And I got my wish.

Once the final payment went through and all the work was done, I got a nasty message on my answering machine from him. I won’t transcribe it because it’s predominantly assertions that my parents weren’t married, that I was a female dog, and that I was suffering from an Oedipus Complex. However, there was some reference to “harassment” and “countersuit” mixed in. My friend and tenant overheard the message and explained.

Friend: “He didn’t read that notice too carefully. I’m suing him for the rent on my apartment, the loss of utilities, and harassment.”

Me: “‘Harassment’?”

Friend: “He called me every day urging me to get you to drop the lawsuit. After the deal, he kept begging for money and demanding I tell you the check was coming.”

Me: “And the rent, too?”

Friend: “It wasn’t your fault my apartment was wrecked.”

My friend won, too. The contractor lost one house when he was unable to pay off the settlement. We last heard that he sold the other and left the state once his business dried up.

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