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Options for resolving disputes with your general contractor

Sometimes, no matter how much effort you put into vetting the general contractor your hire to work on your home, it's not enough and a dispute ensues. While some contracts might require you and your contractor to sit down in front of a mediator or arbitrator to attempt to work out your issues, others may not. Filing a case with the court system may appear to be the only resolution in sight.

If the contract your signed requires either mediation or arbitration, then you'll appreciate knowing that both of these involve either retired judges or well-respected construction attorneys. They're specially trained to listen to both sides of a dispute and are charged with ultimately rendering a settlement. While a mediated resolution is non-binding, a binding arbitration is. The latter cannot be appealed.

As for issues that can't seem to be resolved via mediation or arbitration or that involve a disputed amount of $5,000 or less, taking the case to small claims court may be your next best option. Because attorneys aren't traditionally used in filing small courts claims, instructions provided by the clerk about how to file are usually fairly straightforward and the fee to do so is fairly nominal as well.

To determine which jurisdiction to file in, you should look at the contract to see if it's listed. If not, you can likely file either in the county where you live, where the property is based, or where the contractor's place of business is.

Alternatively, if your claim exceeds $5,000 or you feel that you may not be able to adequately prove your case on your own, you may elect to file your case in the civil court system. You'll want to take caution to hire an attorney skilled in litigating real estate contract disputes.

Your attorney will discuss your case with you and prepare your filing with the court. Filings submitted with the civil court system carry heftier filing fees that can run as much as $800. Aside from the filing fee, you'll also need to have enough money on hand to cover your attorney fees, which may be charged on either an hourly or contingency fee basis.

Source: houselogic.com, "How to resolve a general contractor dispute: your legal options," Barbara Eisner Bayer, accessed March 22, 2017

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