Protecting myself from incomplete contractor work

Hi, is there some sort of clause I can insist be in a home reno type contract that protects me financially from incomplete work, but also doesn’t make me look like a potential jerk or difficult customer?

Brief background;

  • Finish an unfinished basement.
  • Signed with a general contractor to complete all work with a basic bulleted list of what was to be done and there was a 5-installment payment schedule.
  • After about 80% completion, GC basically disappeared. The payment schedule pretty much matched the amount of completed work, so so far I’ve let it go and not sued.
  • Hire second GC to complete the project. They ask for 2 payments; one to get started, and one at completion
  • After about 10% of the remaining 20% work this contractor also seems to have disappeared. Will sue this one; have paid more than the work completed.
  • Now I’m left with 10% of the work that needs completed. Now, rather than being large projects that a GC would want to take on, it is more like 3 partially complete rooms with smaller projects that a GC might not want to do (?) and probably requires me finding separate tradespeople (mason, painter, etc.) at higher labor costs.

Are there options (without looking like too much of a jerk) to, perhaps, apply a daily penalty if work is not complete N days after delivery of materials? Or, rather than just a general payment up front, make it explicitly that they provide me the materials invoice and I pay the invoice, even if it perhaps discloses preferential pricing they may have with the supplier?

I’m kinda through being the nice guy, but don’t want to give off jerk vibes and push away decent folk who could complete the work. The work that was complete isn’t shoddy; they both seem to have done decent work, just can’t finish the darn thing. It’s not a difficult project, there were no issues around my payments when due, and I wasn’t a ‘helicopter’ or otherwise difficult or nitpicky. It’s very strange. I don’t know if it has something to do with things going on in the economy, construction employment, or supply chain at the moment? Unfortunately, even with YT videos, I don’t feel confident in my own skills to complete the work; I’d rather have someone who is experienced.

TIA for any input.

Don’t worry about being a jerk. Act in your own best interest, seek advice from an attorney familiar with your type of problem.

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Contractor prices for workers are not necessarily better, and in fact include a cost paid to the contractor. That said, their subcontractors are vetted.

Did you check business licenses? Most states have a Registrar of Contractors (or equivalent) that licenses contractors, and may have a recovery fund to reimburse homeowners’ whose licensed contractors disappear.

Yes they had licenses as of hiring them. I can re-check and look into the recovery thing. What would I google to read about this? What happens if they were licensed but the license has since expired/lapsed? Is recovery based on current status or status as of date work performed?

For small residential contractors ultimately no. They can stonewall you until the court date then go out of business in one name and re-start their business in another name. Buyer be ware. Have a scedule of value going in and don’t pay contractor for any work not completed properly and with lien waivers.

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Depending on the state, you may be able to file against the individual as well as the company named on the license; especially in a case of fraud.

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In WA this seems to be handled by the “Labor & Industries” department. They both still seem to have active licenses. Unfortunately, L&I seems to make suing against the bond, if I go that route, difficult for individuals, with lots of fees and requiring you to dig up and modify obscure legal templates that then may not meet specific formatting for your superior court. They don’t provide standard forms like small claims. I suspect going that route one ends up against insurance lawyers who’ll get your case thrown out on technicalities if you’re an individual. I’m speaking with a lawyer tomorrow.

Maybe you can find some semi retired trustworthy builder who wants a few extra bucks? The term GC has many meanings, and you are knee deep now so why not be your own GC and you can do parts of it yourself?
44 years building and I have heard much worse. Every customer has a horror story. Near NH? I’ll swing by…