For the viewers, reality television offers an escape and a harmless entertaining view of what a new house, fashion choice, or social situation might be like. For participants however, the experience can be anything but harmless. On the HGTV show “Love It or List It”, homeowners turned to the show producer Big Coat TV and contractor Aaron Fitz Construction to renovate their North Carolina home. The couple had deposited $140,000 into an escrow account with Big Coat TV prior to construction to cover the cost of the renovations performed by Aaron Fitz Construction during the course of the taping. Plans were submitted for what the couple was looking for prior to agreeing to have their experience filmed.
In practice however, the episode shows an entirely different contractor who is not licensed in North Carolina. A scaled down and subpar version of the original plans was completed.
The homeowners have since filed a lawsuit in Durham County Superior Court asserting claims for breach of contract and deceptive trade practices. The lawsuit contends that the work completed was shoddy and left the home “irreparably damaged”, with holes in the floor, low grade supplies, windows painted shut and more. It also questions why payments were not distributed as agreed to in the original contract as well as Big Coat TV’s use of unlicensed professionals. Instead of the couple paying for their renovation with a licensed contractor and having it filmed for a television program, they essentially paid for a set to be built that benefits the show and its advertisers that leaves this family with a potentially uninhabitable home.
Pennsylvania has similar laws in place to protect the owners of real estate from poor construction. When the quality of the workmanship differs from what was promised under the contract to such an extent as alleged in complaint against the Love It or List It show on HGTV, you have in addition to claims for breach of contract a claim under the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law – also known as UDAP. What is great about UDAP from a plaintiff’s point of view is that if you are successful, a judge, in his or her discretion, may award up to three times the amount of damages sustained plus reasonable attorneys’ fees. This last part is a great hammer to use in negotiations.
While at first glance you may ask yourself what does this have to do with me because I am not on a TV show or I am a commercial landlord. The answer to both is plenty. First, whether you are a residential or commercial land owner, make sure your contractor is properly licensed to do business in your state. Second, make sure the construction agreement is clear on what is to be done and by whom. Stated differently, make sure your contractor is either not using subcontractors or if it is, make sure you know what subcontractors it is using. Third, never get ahead in payments. Be wary of the contractor that asks for money upfront to buy the materials for your project. If the contractor does not have sufficient funds available, you might find yourself funding the costs associated with the contractors’ prior project. Sounds crazy but this is a very common occurrence. And finally, be present and observe what is happening during the project. Once the walls go up and the studs are covered, you no longer know what has or has not been done. While this may not be practical for you due to either time, location or cost of the project, perhaps it might make sense to consider retaining a construction manager to oversee the project and make sure it is completed timely, on budget and according to the specifications set forth in the plan.
The attorneys at Danziger Shapiro & Leavitt, P.C. are available to assist you in connection with your residential or commercial real estate project. Whether it is in reviewing or creating transaction documents that will enable you to acquire, develop or improve real estate or bring a lawsuit against your contractors for faulty construction, Danziger Shapiro & Leavitt has done this before and can help you today.
This entry is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.