Dealing with an unresponsive contractor who abandons a project before its completion is unfortunately a situation that many homeowners face. Left with an incomplete bathroom or kitchen, the homeowner has no choice but to promptly find a new contractor to complete the project, usually at a higher price. As discussed below, there are different categories of damages that a homeowner can recover.
When the homeowner hires a new contractor to finish the project, then the measure of damages is the reasonable cost to complete the project and correct any defect, less the amount left unpaid on the original contract. For example, if it costs $90,000 to complete the project and the amount not yet paid on the original contract is $50,000, the homeowner is entitled to the difference between these two amounts, i.e. $40,000.
If the contractor caused serious delays, for example by being unresponsive or leaving the project without any supervision or manpower for days, then the homeowner is also entitled to actual damages. Examples of actual damages are the fair rental value of the property, additional finance charges assessed to the construction loan, or any other costs that the homeowner would not have incurred had the project been completed in a timely manner.
When the contractor’s conduct is unfair and deceptive within the meaning of G.L.c.93A (consumer protection statute) and/or in violation G.L.c.142A (governing regulation of home improvement contractors), the homeowner can recover his attorney’s fees and costs incurred in suing the contractor. Additionally, if the court finds that the contractor’s conduct was willful and knowing, the homeowner may be awarded up to treble damages. For example, in Denapoli v. Hart, 93 Mass.App.Ct. 1107 (April 23, 2018), the homeowners were able to recover twice their damages (consisting of the costs to repair and complete the project), and their attorney’s fees and costs. In awarding double damages, the judge considered the contractor’s “deviation from building plans, failure to timely complete the project, and defective work” and concluded that such conduct was “willful and knowing.” The Appeals Court affirmed the judgment holding that the facts relied upon by the judge and supported by the record, “provided an adequate basis for the award of multiple damages.” The Appeals Court went even a step further by awarding the homeowners’ appellate attorney’s fees.
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