In our practice at Skufca Law, we routinely represent both contractors and homeowners in disputes related to residential construction. Anyone who owns a home can understand that these disputes can quickly become emotionally charged and for good reasons. On one side, you have a homeowner who is paying for work on their home that they want to be perfect. On the other side, you have a contractor who is doing their best to perform the work and satisfy their customer. Of course, sometimes one of these parties may be acting in bad faith, but more often than not, a residential construction dispute is a result of either inconsistent or mismanaged expectations. An otherwise simple dispute then gets compounded as tempers flare. I’ve known law firms that refuse to accept clients with residential construction disputes because the disputes too closely resemble domestic disputes!
Can a homeowner go after a contractor’s license?
A common question I get from potential homeowner clients is: “Can I go after the contractor’s license?” The answer to that question is neither “Yes” or “No” but “Hold on a second!” The North Carolina Licensing Board for General Contractors has the power “to refuse to issue or renew or revoke, suspend, or restrict a certificate of license or to issue a reprimand or take other disciplinary action if a general contractor licensed . . . is found guilty of any fraud or deceit in obtaining a license, or gross negligence, incompetency, or misconduct in the practice of his or her profession, or willful violation of any provision of this Article. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 87-11. Most residential construction disputes concern a homeowner’s dissatisfaction with a contractor’s work. However, even if a contractor’s work is faulty or defective in some respect, not every instance of defective work by a contractor will amount to “gross negligence, incompetency or misconduct” by the contractor. Generally speaking, defective work must constitute a violation of the North Carolina Building Code in order to warrant disciplinary action toward the contractor. In many cases, a homeowner may have work that is defective but does not violate the Building Code, which the Board will leave the parties to resolve rather than discipline the contractor.
At the early stages of a dispute, a license complaint is both unpredictable and inflammatory. A license complaint is unpredictable because, as explained above, not every mistake by a contractor will result in discipline. In addition, the homeowner has no control over the process. The Board communicates with the contractor and conducts its own independent investigation of the contractor’s work. Unlike a lawsuit, the homeowner cannot simply dismiss its complaint if they resolve their dispute with the contractor because the Board serves the public interest—not just an individual homeowner. A license complaint is inflammatory because it is an attack on a contractor’s livelihood and reputation. Even if such an attack may be warranted at some point, to lead off a dispute with a license complaint will leave a contractor no choice but to dig in and defend themselves rather than attempt to resolve what may otherwise be a simple and solvable dispute.
Why should I contact a lawyer?
Rather than fire off a complaint and launch a Board investigation into what you consider to be defective work, consider contacting a lawyer first. A lawyer should be able to tell you whether certain work falls within the Building Code and has a possibility of disciplinary action from the Board. Further, a lawyer can assist you in resolving the matter in a way that may be more productive than filing a complaint with the Licensing Board. Although filing a complaint may feel good in the moment as a “gotcha” to your contractor, it takes away a lot of potential leverage you might otherwise have in settlement negotiations. Even if a contractor does not think they have done anything wrong, they likely do not welcome a Board investigation. But if you’ve already filed a license complaint with the Board, you cannot put that genie back in the bottle and you’ve given the contractor nothing to lose.
Sometimes license complaints are fully warranted, especially in cases of fraud or deceit. However, if resolution of your specific problems as a homeowner and customer of a contractor is your primary goal, take a deep breath and contact a lawyer before taking any action that you cannot take back. If you’re a homeowner or a contractor facing a potential legal dispute, contact the experienced lawyers at Skufca Law to understand your options.