Is my contractor incompetent?

First let me say that I live in Corpus Christi, Texas. Over the past 7 years I probably have obtained 20-30 proposals for various construction, pool, remodelling, landscaping, electrical work in my home. Not one had any detail whatsoever. The only one that exceeded one hand-written page was for a major remodel of my home. You are lucky in this city to get someone to even give a bid. If you asked for a detailed proposal, the vast majority of contractors would never call back.
I wanted to rebuild a deck next to my pool because the staircase to the deck was made of steel with iron rails and was rusting to the point of collapse. I decided I wanted to use ipe wood because of its ultimate durability and beauty. No one in this city had even heard of the wood, let alone used it. I contacted 4 contractors, Three came out to look at the project, one despite literally 15 calls would never even give a bid. Two said that they also did not want to bid because they had never worked with the wood. One was enthusiastic and gave me a bid. I felt that if I wanted to use ipe wood, I had to use this contractor.
After starting the project there were multiple arguments over "extra labor" charges including charges for installing flashing (standard construction technique from everyone I have asked, charges for inspecting wood (2 hours), picking up materials (3 hours), even water and ice charges, (none of which are outlined as possible charges in the contract) the project is in its latter stages. I am satisfied overall with the look and construction although I now find that he has constructed the stairway to the 2nd story deck at a less steep angle than the original staircase in order to incorporate a 4 foot landing partway down. Although I guess this looks good, the less steep angle of the stairs now means that when going up the stairs, I would hit my head at least in three spots going up since the stairs are right next to an eve of the house. He did suggest placing this landing to me and I agreed to it, although I never would have agreed if I realized that this would cause this problem. The stairway is 42" wide, and the eve extends perhaps 15" into the stairway, so it is possible to go up the stairs without problem if you walk on the side away from the eve.
Do other builders think that this was an incompetent mistake on the part of the contractor? I really am so frustrated by this whole project, I cannot bear the thought of telling the contractor to rebuild the stairs. At the same time, every time I go up the stairs I will probably get upset with the way they are built.
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On 4 Oct 2006 19:01:57 -0700, " snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com"

If I understand your problem, it is that a fellow agreed to work with an unfamiliar material you insisted on, did a decent job, charged you amounts you agreed to, outlined a plan for a stairway which you agreed to and which, when built, is unsatisfactory.
Is he incompetent? He just built you a deck using unfamiliar materials. So, probably not.
Did he make a mistake? Likely. Code here calls for 74 inch clear headroom above steps ... indoors. He *couid* have spotted the looming <grin> problem of the eave. So could you.
You have a contract ... and he has built what the contract called for. (You agreed.) But a product has to be reasonably suited to its purpose for the contract to be satisfied.
Tell him you're unhappy .. he should have anticipated the problem and probably so should you. Ask him for the best solution. Split the cost with him.
Ken
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Stair clearance is usually governed by the building code. Your deck probably required a building permit. If your contractor pulled the permit, then there is an implication that it be built to code. So, lets know the following:
Is stair clearance governed by code? Did you have a building permit? Did you pull the permit, or the contracor? What did/does the inspector say about the clearances?
The wood you chose has nothing to do with headroom. It should never have been built in a way that you'll hit your head in several places. Try selling the place, this will be a real turnoff.
If you pulled a permit, you may not pass inspection if you don't have enough headroom. If you didn't pull permits, that will come to haunt you one day.
Sounds like he needs to rebuild it at his expense.
S
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There is no permit that I am aware of. I did not even know that a permit is required. The contractor is registered with the BBB, and was referred to me by another contractor. As I mentioned, the only reason I went with the contractor was that I could find no others willing to work with ipe wood. I have paid each and every draft as per contract plus his "extras" which, once again, were not explained in the contract.
At this point what should I do? Should I check into a permit? Is it possible that the city may require that I tear down this deck which has already cost me approximately 20K. In the future, what may be the consequence if it does not meet code? I think the deck itself is O.K., it is only the stairs which are problematic.
I did not see how the stairs were going to be built until the landing was placed today. I work during the day, so it is not possible for me to watch every step of the construction. There was no draft or drawing of the deck prior to construction. I would point out, part of the problem was created because the stairway cannot be moved from the housing eve because of a pool fence limits where the stairway can go. I made it very clear to the contractor however, that I wanted the pool fence to remain. Further, the original staircase did not have this problem by simply being at a steeper angle without a landing halfway down.
mrsgator88 wrote:

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I also want to restate that the eve covers about 15" of the 42" width of stairway so it is possible to go up without hitting your head as long as you stay on the side of stairway away from the eve.
Now I am really worried about this issue, and I will need to address it ASAP since I think the contractor intends to complete the stairs and entire deck within the next 48 hours. I think perhaps the simplest solution would be to eliminate the landing. If this were done there still might be a single area near the top of the stairs where clearance would be low.
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These days, unless you're really in the middle of nowhere, permits are required for lots of work. Anytime you're making a change (or addition) to your property, the type of thing that would affect an architects drawings OR your tax assessment OR safety, you're usually looking at needing a permit. The contractor might be required to take out the permit. You'll have to check your local laws however.
Registered with BBB means very little, except if you file a complaint they MAY help mediate. Or not .
If you want to be legit, check into a permit. Just call anonymously and ask if you need a permit for a new deck. If they say yes, you have a decision to make. 1) hope you don't get caught while you're living there 2) tell them what happened. They won't make you tear it down, they will make you comply with code.
You spent 20k on the deck, do it right. $20k is too much not to.
S

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"mrsgator88" wrote in message

what logic did you use to come up with that statement ? Nothing was ever said about the deck size or amount or work involved or cost of materials. Maybe its a small deck , maybe its a very large deck . Either way the only concern is a job done should be a job done right, no matter what the price Done right = with proper permits, and satisfying the customer If the customer ask you to do something outside the building codes - refuse to do it. I turn away work everyweek from people that want to work without permits
kickstart
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The deck is 270 sq feet. Permits were never discussed. If I were aware that a permit is required, I would have insisted on it, and would have had no problem in paying for the fees.
After speaking with the contractor, he kept saying that the clearance and angle of the stairway was better than before (allowing even more headroom than previously). I know that there HAD to have been some change because I KNOW that I never had a problem with my head hitting the house eve with the old staircase.
Quite frankly, It is my belief that the contractor did have some responsibility for this problem. Nonetheless, I asked how much time it would take to demo the existing stairway and build one just like the old one. He told me it would take approximately half a day. Please note that I never accused the contractor of any mistakes at all. I simply stated the facts that I did not hit my head on the previous stairway, and I wanted this new one to be the same.
I feel that I am always MORE THAN FAIR, in my dealings with people, so I told him I would pay for a full's day extra labor costs (8 hours x $65/hr), to demo the existing stairway and rebuild one to match the old one. He agreed, and even said, "what's wrong with you," sarcastically basically saying he was happy with that. I then wanted to clarify that he would put back up the aluminum pool fence he took down to help make space to build the deck, and he said no, that that was part of demo and the contract did not call for him to put the fence back up. I told him the contract did not call for him to take it down either, and I had made it clear to him from the start that I intended to keep the pool fence.
Am I wrong in assuming that when a contractor takes down an existing structure which the owner has specified will remain in place after construction, that the contractor would be expected to put it back up after they are completed? Further, I already offered to pay him for twice the labor time he said it would take to demo and rebuild the staircase. This is exactly the pattern of disagreements that I have had with this contractor.
Finally he said that he would put the pool fence back up, if he would no longer be responsible for clearing construction debris, and I agreed. Now that I am writing this, I am beginning to forsee futher conflict when he has difficulty reassembling the fence because it is attached to the deck posts which are a different size than on the previous deck. I probably will be writing more on this in the future.
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Have you called your town yet about whether you need a permit?

Yeah, thats a problem.

He has all the responsibility, he's the contractor.

If he made a mistake with the stairs, why would you pay to fix it? Damn right he better put the fence back.

I'd expect him to put it back.

You're being a doormat. Stand up and tell him to make things right. Tell him to clean up the debris too. The whole point of a contract is so you DON'T negotiate after the work has begun.
S
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Check out: www.MySturdyBuiltGarage.com You think you have problems?
mrsgator88 wrote:

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The contractor should have known to get the required permits. They need to be posted near the construction. If you confess now, you'll need to pass inspection and you'll probably have to pay twice the original fee. Call your local building inspector and ask questions. If you do this anonymously, beware caller ID.
I'd do this before he rebuilds your staircase so you can have an inspector advise you on the matter of local codes pertaining to staircases. I'm guessing there is a provision regulating the amount of vertical clearance. Have the inspector approve the plans for the new staircase.

The clearance is measured from the very tip of the tread. If the contractor measured from anywhere else, he may be fooling himself about the improved clearance. He's not fooling you and your head wounds.

What about materials? Who pays for those?

That depends on your written agreement. Didn't he have to take it down to "make space" to build the deck? It probably *was* figured into the contract as part of the demo. Did he charge you for removing it and replacing it, or just for removing it? Perhaps he never planned on replacing it since you never specifically asked him to do it. Just because he knew you intended to keep it doesn't mean he was responsible for putting it back up. Perhaps he figured you'd want to do it yourself to save money.
How big of a project is it to replace the fence? It probably isn't worth $65/hour, which is a good bit above what most building contractors charge around here, BTW. Either do it yourself, hire someone different, or offer him $20/hour to put it back up. He can send one of his grunts out to do it. Who put it up in the first place?

How much more construction debris can there be at this point? Why is the debris a point of contention for him? If there is enough that it's been an issue, he should have gotten a dumpster in the beginning.
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Logic? He SAID he spent $20k on the deck.

But he did say how much he spent. $20k.

Agreed. However, $20k seems like a LOT of money for a deck. For that kind of money I'd expect perfection. Ok, maybe not perfection, but better than even a damn good job.

Agreed. Many people don't even realize how many things require permits. Every year my town has a reminder in a spring newsletter that things like sheds, decks, etc require a permit. Before that I had no idea that you need a permit to build a shed here.

Agreed.
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He is still on the job, I would simply discuss your concerns with him and change the design back to the way the original stairway was constructed, or some alternate that solves the problem. Changes happen, even if you had plans drawn up things things can end up differently then you envisioned.
I'm building a two story addition on my home, and just removed two special order Andersen windows and replaced them with different ones. I kept looking at that wall and I wasn't happy. Yeah, it cost me money, but now it looks proper and I feel a *lot* better.
-- Dennis
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