What to do with poor quality cabinets

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Hi,
Our kitchen cabinets were built by a local cabinet maker. We live in a Philadelphia suburb, the cabinet make lives in Bucks County. The cabinets are of unacceptably poor quality. Examples include out-of- square boxes, sloppy reveals, poorly mortised hinges (sloppy and hinges are not flush with the wood), handles not at the same height, gaps in joints, warped doors, damage in the finish, wobbly and crooked drawers, tear outs in the veneer and many more.
We have obviously made a number of mistakes, the biggest being in judgment of character and background checks. These mistakes led to other mistakes, like paying the full amount when we were informed that the cabinet maker ran out of money and wouldn't be able to continue working on our project unless we paid. We were in a tough spot having worked on the kitchen for three years and feeling the need to bring this project to an end.
However, all of that is in the past. At this point, what recourse, if any, do we have? Can one bring a law suit based on "low quality" - that is, is the an objective measure of quality that the court could base its decision on?
I would welcome any ideas on how to proceed. Or should we just recognize that we made a $25k mistake and move on?
Many thanks in advance.
Sam
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IOW, something that anyone would clearly recognize as obviously substandard work.
[...]

Sam, you need to seek advice from a lawyer, not a bunch of woodworkers.
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On 3/5/2012 8:19 AM, Sam Takoy wrote:

Have you complained to the contractor? did you pay by credit card?
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You made a 25k mistake. Wow that's a lot of money for garbage.
Handles not at the same height? The other stuff might be considered subjective...
Tearout on the veneer in a noticeable location or inside out of view?
Suing is a local thing. Each jurisdiction has their own view of this. And what one considers acceptable versus what someone is nitpicking over is subjective. So it's hard to say. It's hard to know without seeing pictures.
On 3/5/2012 9:19 AM, Sam Takoy wrote:

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the person who made the cabinets may have no assets, so even if you win you may lose.
how much did they cost? were the cabinets themselves 25 grand?
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On 3/5/2012 9:42 AM, bob haller wrote:

For once, I have to agree 100% with Haller. You lost a boat load of money with the cabinets. Why let a lawyer pick your other pocket. I'm sure the right lawyer can sue and win, but from experience I can tell you that judgement doesn't put a dime in your pocket. This isn't the first crappy job this guy has done, and he's probably been sued before, possibly even a career criminal. He won't have one possession in his name, nothing to attach.You'll wind up with two pieces of paper in your possession, one that says you won a law suit, and the other, the bill from your lawyer.
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On 3/5/2012 8:19 AM, Sam Takoy wrote:

It's called between a rock and hard place.
IMO, your best bet at this point is to at least try to do what you can to protect what equity you already have the cabinets as they exist, and without spending any more money.
That is relatively easy to accomplish by immediately getting at least three quotes from reputable remodelers in your area with the idea of bringing the existing cabinet job up to a reasonable standard.
Once you have a basis for that cost, you will then have information you need for either doing the work, or suing, or both.
If you do decide to sue, that information will be necessary, and to your benefit, in any event.
Run, don't walk, to get this done, immediately.
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On 3/5/2012 9:08 AM, Swingman wrote:

AND ... you DO NOT need a lawyer to do this! If you hire one _before_ you do the above, you will be charged for the advice above that you already have for free ... guaranteed!
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On 3/5/12 9:08 AM, Swingman wrote:

Whatever the outcome, a lawyer may be necessary to draw up the paperwork that the bad cabinet maker must sign to consider the transaction complete, or he may come back later with a lien on your house claiming he wasn't paid in full.
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On 3/5/2012 11:05 AM, -MIKE- wrote:

In most states all you need from any contractor is a simple Release of Lien (if you can get him to sign one) and that does not require a lawyer to draw up.
And, if he refuses, he may already be past the statutory time frame in which he could file a lien in any case.
All these can be checked in most states online, with no lawyer necessary.
That said, in order for a material-man's release of lien to be recorded, not necessary in most states, it most likely will need to be notarized, which can often be done with just a trip to a bank.
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You should take this advice, carve it in stone and go like hell. Those who recommend legal resolution as a good cure for this watch too much courtroom drama TV and too many of the "Judge XXXXXX" shows. Sueing is a long, painful process that often winds up with no satisfactory resolution. As a retained expert witness on a few cases, myself and the attorneys did OK, but their clients did not.
Even if the client was wronged, even if they received a judgement, even if court ordered the contractor to be liable and pay, most of the time the client received NOTHING. Some contractor, somewhere is sitting at home saying, "well, let 'em sue. You can't get blood out of a stone". Even if you win, you may not get a thing. And if the judge finds that you might have had a hand in the problem, or lead the contractor to believe that in some way you were ever happy with his work, he may split the damages between you.
Locally (San Antonio, TX), most amateur Perry Masons are stunned to find that in such cases attorneys are NOT interested in small payout cases. To take the case at no cost to the client, there must be a large payout, and their cut will in most cases be anywhere from 35 to 50%, depending on the difficulty of the case. With that in mind, most require $1000 retainer to "look into the case" and $2500 to persue it and write a nasty letter or two. If it goes to court, there is usually another $5000 for prep fees to cover documentation, a day in court, research for precedent, etc.
Time is of the essence. The longer you wait, the longer this will look like buyer's remorse to a judge/jury/arbiter. Take a lot of pictures before you do anything, including loading the cabinets up with "stuff".
+ IMO, your best bet at this point is to at least try to do what you can + to protect what equity you already have the cabinets as they exist, and + without spending any more money.
+ That is relatively easy to accomplish by immediately getting at least + three quotes from reputable remodelers in your area with the idea of + bringing the existing cabinet job up to a reasonable standard.
That is easily the best, most well thought out response reflecting practical experience. If you want to crap shoot a few hundred (thousand?) on the court system and attorneys along with another 3 years of your life, go ahead and start the legal process. If you can get doors rehung, cabinets rehung, hinges mortised an adjusted correctly, handles replaced and have it all done for a reasonable cost, do it, and consider it a lesson learned.
As a remodeling contractor, I have taken down cabinets and reworked them many, many times. Sometimes from bad installs, but more often than not because we were saving the clients money by using a basically good build that just needed a tune up. Find the guy that can do that to get your estimates from to start. Try callign a local cabinet shop that doesn't hang their cabinets for a resource. Most cabinet shops around here don't hang their own products, but have a good group of guys that do it for them.
Good luck. Sorry for your problems... I know how painful this can be. And from the contractor's side, one idiot makes us all look bad.
Robert
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You need to seek legal advice.
Very carefully word your complaints as you present your complaint to attorney.
It is my understanding that they are NOT allowed to put words into your mouth, or suggest really aggressive recompense, else they appear to be 'ambulance chasers', so they let you formulate your request for satisfaction. Because you don't know all the ins and outs, you might get the response to forget it. At this formative time, state simple facts, THEN ask what are my rights, put the burden back onto the attorney to tell you. You asked, so now he/she can tell you!
You are the plaintiff, the burden of proof is upon you. photos, repair estimates from licensed professionals (several of them), construction estimates for the original work request, copies of any signed contracts.
You will be asked why you thought the work was acceptable enough to pay the total before completion. Whether that payment represented your implicit full satisfaction.
If this guy knows his scams, he will have laid a trail of entrapments for you, that legally points to your tacit approvals.
You can claim naivety to an extent, but a lot of judges, will toss you out of their court, UNLESS you are totally prepared: 1. you can claim you are naive, because this is first time hiring such construction, and listened to recommendations - find out if the recommendations were false, if true, then you might be able to claim that this is a one time breach of quality on this otherwise professional installer. 2. the original quote matches other quotes [not representing a super, unrealistic bargain] and thus you expected some standard level of quality - get photos, professional judgments [you have ALREADY shown that your judgment cannot be counted upon, remove yourself from ANY personal comments/attitudes, else a judge will attribute your request in seeking satisfaction as vindictive revenge, and throw it out of his court] 3. BE SPECIFIC - you MUST give the legal people handles to work with, like what happened, what went wrong, and most importantly WHAT YOU WANT NOW. Many people when going into court forget that key element, don't leave actions up to them, if you ask for nothing you will get nothing. 4. Often forgotten is the claim that this is your personal home [not installed in a business] and therefore personal, something you must look at everyday, and remember the 'bad' experiences - for some judges [they are voted to be kept in office] that does have value.
Note: if you do NOT use the original installer to fix, you have to establish why he is not capable of fixing [burden of proof upon plaintiff]. You might be able to show other poor jobs. Or, that he is just failing for you, like 3 unsuccessful attempts to correct, and he is out. Something like that.
Two courses of action 1. rip out start over, refund total amount.and requires civil court WITH an attorney 2. repair to acceptable level, make claim for repairs - there is a necessary sequence for this action a) you MUST make a request with time limit to the original supplier to bring his work up to quality, after he refuses, or cannot, THEN you proceed. b) seek several written estimates, select reasonable one [you can 'average' estimates for repair to present to judge]
Assuming b) at less cost, go to Small Claims court [no attorney required] file for compensation - and ASK for ANY reasonable expense, even your time at $/hr to take all these actions. If you don't ask, you won't get. A judge, may delete from total, but may not. Also, pursue people personally, do not let them hide behind a 'corporate entity' that can evaporate at the drop of a hat. I've seen people list suppliers. You can't believe how much pressure a supplier can bring, they don't want to take time to go to court, and they start looking at this individual's account a bit closer, too.
And record, record, record. Written records have value. They can be your notes, taken at the time of any conversation, but keep records, when necessary, send registered mail to make request to complete work with return receipt [for you to show judge you tried to get work completed]
REMEMBER THIS: You need to establish in these people's minds that you are a man of your word, when you say you want something and pay for it, you expect to get it. And, will not stop until everything is righteous.
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You paid $25k for custom cabinets before any ofthem were delivered? How dumb is that?
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Sam Takoy wrote:

Did you view his work for samples of his ability? Did you specify style and quality? Did you go to his shop and view the work done up to that point before paying the rest of the money?
My advice is to use God's Word and make your decision.
    bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. [29] "Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. [30] "Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. [31] "And just as you want people to treat you, treat them in the same way. Luke 6:28-31 (NASB)
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. [18] If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. [19] Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. Romans 12:17-19 (NASB)
There are other verses of course, and some he should read as well.
But that is my advice and you did ask everyone - it is *your* decision what to do and how to do it.
--
Michael Joel

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes,
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Sam Takoy wrote:

Some of the things you mention could be subjective; the reveals, e.g. Others might be nit-picky...how much out of square?...tearout where?...what sort of finish damage? Regardless - from what you've said - I wouldn't be kissing off 25K!
If it were me, I would first make a detailed list of the things I find wrong. I would then contact the maker and politely and calmly express my dissatisfaction, explaining what I found wrong and asking him what he would propose.
If what he proposed was unsatisfactory I would photograph them; I would then photograph similar areas on work I found OK in order to contrast the two. And I'm talking decent photos, not fuzzy, under/over exposed ones. If out of square, *SHOW* (in the photo) that it is and how much. If you have to hire a photographer it can be money well spent but do NOT hire a portrait photographer; preferably, hire one who has experience in forensics; if that isn't possible, then a commercial photographer and explain exactly what you want the photos to show and why you are having them made.
Finally, I would do what Swingman suggested...get written, detailed quotes from others to fix what is wrong. By "detailed" I mean things like, "Repair damaged finish on left front door front..."...detailed. As detailed as possible. You need those in order to show the extent of your damages but they could also help *prove* the damages along with the photos (and the cabinets themselves but photos are easier to take to court :). It would also be useful if you could show that specs in the original contract were not followed.
Depending upon the cost to make you whole, I would then talk to a lawyer IF the amount is greater than the max in your small claim court. Have no doubt, a lawyer will be costing money; if you can use small claims and if you feel competent to prove damages than personally I would go that route.
Someone mentioned the possibility that even if you sued you might not be able to collect...the "blood out of a turnip" thing. That's true but whoever built them probably has a truck and/or car; liens can be placed on them after obtaining a judgment. Ditto his house (if not a renter), equipment, etc. Bank accounts can be attached. IOW, you may not get the judgment paid immediately but eventually it will be.
There is also something known as "examination of a judgment debtor" whereby he can be called into court, sworn and questioned by you (or lawyer) to determine exactly what he has and where it is; refusal to answer or lies can bring jail time.
I hope things work out for you. I know you are disappointed - especially after being involved with the kitchen for three years - and I feel for you. I hope he isn't a corporation.
--

dadiOH
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wrote:

One question that has not been asked and needs to be answered. Did your cabinet maker also INSTALL the cabinets? Or did you install them as part of your three year kitchen renovation.
If you installed them or a general laborer installed them rather than the cabinetmaker I'm afraid you will not have a leg to stand on. If the cabinetmaker supplied the installation crew you have recourse.
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On Mar 5, 12:14pm, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote:

If the cabinets are defective, then the cabinets are defective regardless of who installed them. Yes, some of the defects he has could possibly be blamed on installation, but handles at the wrong height, incorrect hinge mortising, etc is going to be hard to pin on the installer. And he does not have to prove any of that beyond a reasonable doubt, he just needs to prove it more likely than not it's the fault of the cabinet maker. It would also help if he has pictures of the cabinets before they were installed, showing the defects. If they were defective, I sure would have taken a picture of them immediately and if they were bad enough I would have refused delivery.
One thing that is not mentioned is what is the position of the guy who built them? Does he deny there are defects? Has he even been asked to make them right? Courts expect in most cases for you to try to work with the guy to give him a chance to correct them before coming to court.
First thing I would do is what someone else suggested. Get in an expert cabinet guy and get an estimate of what it takes to make it right, ie can they be fixed for $2,000 or are they so bad that you'd have to start all over.
The good news for you is that PA has a high small claims court limit of $12,000. In many states it's very low, like $3,000. IMO, small claims is going to be your only viable option. You could recover up to $12,000 without legal fees, no lawyer is necessary. If the cabinets can be made right without doing it all over, that should cover it.
If you went to regular court and won the entire $25K, after legal fees you likely wouldn't net much more anyway. And if you lose, you'd be out the legal fees. I also doubt paying a lawyer to look into it and send threatening letters is going to do much good. If you do go with a lawyer, I'd get a clear cap UP FRONT on what you're going to pay him or you'll be having the next dispute with the lawyer when you get a bill for $2K without anything having been resolved.
As others have pointed out, winning and collecting are two different things. Shysters like this often are experts at hiding assets, like putting houses, cars, and bank accounts in others names. Or he could wind up declaring bankruptcy before you get to court, etc. The other important thing here is what form of business it is, ie sole proprietorship, corporation, etc. That will determine the entity you can sue and possibly collect from.
With small claims, it will not cost you much to try to get made whole. Make sure you document everything with excellent photos, phone call records, etc. Show records of how many times you've called him. With regard to phone calls, if PA allows taping with one party consent, then I'd tape any calls you have with him, if that's still possible. Save any phone messages he leaves you. A guy acting like an unreasonable AH for the judge to hear can only help your case. If he says the problem with the cabinets is X and later in court says it's Y, you have him destroying his credibility. And make sure you at least have a notorized letter from an expert cabinet guy detailing what is wrong with the cabinets and how much it will cost to correct. Ideally you'd want him with you in small claims as a witness.
The thing you better have a good explanation for is why he was paid in full. And if the cabinets were not all delivered at once, why you went ahead with more work when the first ones were defective, etc.
If you want to put some time into it, you might be able to recover something. Whether you have the time and inclination to do so is another issue. Me, I'd do it just to not let the skunk get away with it. And often skunks like this just don't show up in court, so you might win by default. But then collecting is another matter.
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On Tue, 6 Mar 2012 06:32:35 -0800 (PST), " snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net"

OP did not say the hardware was at different levels on the doors - simply that they did not line up. Also said the reveals were all odf, etc etc. A perfectly square set of cabinets installed off square will have all of those symptoms - along with veneer tearouts at joints etc if they are built of MDF or chip-board covered with veneer.
IF the OP installed them himself, or had a "blacksmith" put them in (nothing against blacksmiths when they are working with iron and a forge, but keep them away from my cabinetry unless they are also cabinet-makers) a perfectly good set of cabinets can be converted to a dumpsterload od course sawdust in a matter of an hour or two.
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On Mar 6, 10:31am, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote:

Neither you nor I are there to actually see the problems. Many of them sound to me like they are more likely the result of poor cabinets, rather than installation:
"poorly mortised hinges (sloppy and hinges are not flush with the wood), handles not at the same height, gaps in joints, warped doors, damage in the finish, wobbly and crooked drawers,"
Who, for example is more likely to have mortised the hinges? The cabinet maker or the installer? And by handles not at the same height, I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he doesn't mean the cabinets themselves were hung at random heights. But in any case, there is clearly enough there that it could be the cabinets that are defective.
You on the other hand are jumping to totally unsupported conclusions:
"If you installed them or a general laborer installed them rather than the cabinetmaker I'm afraid you will not have a leg to stand on. If the cabinetmaker supplied the installation crew you have recourse."
That is just plain wrong. If he has defects that are due to the way they were built, then he has a case and there is no requirement that the company who built the cabinets install them. For all you know, he could have pictures that he took of the defective cabinets sitting there BEFORE they were installed. Or a bus load of nuns could have been there to witness what they looked like when they were delivered.
If he wants to purse it, it's up to a judge to decide who's right and who's wrong. He could prevail in his case that the cabinets are defective in a number of ways.
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On 3/6/2012 9:47 AM, snipped-for-privacy@optonline.net wrote:

Keep in mind this was crossposted to the wRec, where there is no shortage of the ill informed giving sight unseen, purely conjectural advice on issues with which they have no experience whatsoever.
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