My wife's 35 year old son(by a previous marriage I hasten to add)called a
plumber to "unplug a drain blockage" in a rental unit that he owns in
Spokane Washington. No written or verbal estimate of time or dollars was
given by the plumber nor was one asked for by wife's son. All of the
conversation was verbal and brief between the plumber and my wife's son.
Day and a half later the plumber calls and says "We did 12 hours work
looking for the block and were unable to find it. You owe me $1200.00".
This is the crux of the situation and all of the facts that were given to
Over the years I have received lots of great advice, information,etc from
I certainly would appreciate suggestions,ideas,etc.]
Some of the bases have already been covered(i.e. asking for a written
itemized, checking with other plumbers about their hourly rates, calling the
state board of consumer affairs,etc) but I am sure there are many other
Thank you very much,
The phone authorization constitutes a verbal contract.
What is at issue is whether the effort was expended or not and whether
the rate is reasonable if it was.
Question I has is twofold -- was there an actual blockage and is there
still one (which it appears there should be if the plumber was unable
to correct it)?
If it was a wild goose chase from the git-go, my guess would be best
could hope for would be some negotiated settlement. If there were an
actual blockage at one time but isn't any longer, then would be hard
to get judgement the plumber again for anything other than perhaps a
reduced fee even if didn't know what he did that solved the problem.
If it was blocked and still is, then there's something to argue over
as he hasn't resolved the problem. But, still undoubtedly will owe at
least something for the time involved so far. Best I can see you can
do is find out from the renters (assuming the were there) how long
they were actually on the job and go from there.
On 5 Feb 2007 10:27:18 -0800, " email@example.com"
Verbal contracts still are valid. Are you sure (hint, hint, wink,
wink) that the plumber didn't say the typical job is 1 hour? I mean,
wouldn't the plumber have a hard time explaining to a judge that he
was authorized to spend 12 hours on a what he suggested (wink, wink,
nudge, nudge) was a simple snake job?
Crappy plumber if they spent 12 hours and didnt find it.
I am surprised that they have even the balls to ask you for money
considering they didn't solve the problem. If it was fixed then
a different story. I wouldn't pay it, but would question the whole
point to be charged for 1200.00 and they didnt get it.
Skipping out on the bill isnt the right thing either, If they know
are doing on collecting bills they can put a lien on the house for
amount owed. Its a nice surprise when it comes time to sell the
and they get their chunk out of it then.
The hourly rate seems fair, but after 2 or 3 hours, the plumber should have
taken other steps. Perhaps a drain specialist should have been called.
I speak from some experience as I had a blockage a couple of weeks ago. I
invested two or three hours and could not solve the problem, but I then got
professional help. I called the town and they figured it was a damaged
line. I called a drain guy that confirmed and repaired it. I don't know
the cost as the power company that did the damage is paying. My point is, it
did involve about 5 or 6 man yours to pinpoint the problem, then another few
hours to dig up and repair the line. The plumber probably should have
taken other steps in the meantime.
I'd have a specialist check it out, find the problem, negotiate from there.
The original guy is certainly owed something. I'm not sure what that is
until we find out what the problem is and if he should have been able to
find it easily.
Theres a question here of what would be reasonable for the customer to
expect of a professional tradesman.
I cant see a pro plumber taking more than 1 hour to locate a
blockage , if he doesnt find one in that time he should be into the
main sewer line.
What was he doing for the other 11 hours ?
I had a new sewer lateral installed , trench dug , pipe laid and
refilled and it took less time than that.
Let's hope the son has learned a lesson from this.
Craftsmen see a landlord coming and you're wearing ONE BIG TARGET!
I am sitting here laughing at the size of his brass ones. $1200 for
Fix it yourself and send him $100 for his time and explain you were
able to resolve the matter with Liquid Plumber for $1.98.
So if the drain is still clogged, your son will have to hire someone
else to find the clog, I presume.
One of the things he should look for in a new plumber is someone who
is willing to write a detailed description of the problem as it now
stands, and his expert's opinion as to what the problem was in the
first place and how long it should have taken to fix it. I guess you
should also ask in advance if the man is able to judge such things.
I'm not at all suggesting he should lie (I'm not winking), but if your
son was overcharged (and it seems he must have been -- what kind of a
clog can't be found in less than 12 hours?)
I dont' think the judge will look favorably on them if they haven't
fixed it. That is, he'll be dubious, he'll react the same as we have.
But that doesn't mean he'll rule your way. Especially if they have
"evidence". If they do this sort of thing fairly often, they probably
have ways to "document" the time they were there, for example, maybe a
spare truck they parked outside while they went to do work elsewhere
OTOH, this seems like a new wrinkle. They may have lost in court in
the past when they said they fixed soemthing and it wasn't really
fixed. So no;w they say they *didn't* fix it, and they don't look
like they're lying about that part. See if you can find out how many
times they've been to court in your county and even surrounding
counties, and see if you can get the other litigants to testify for
you. Maybe start off with notarized statements. I've never
understood this part: you're allowed to pay a witness fee, but I
don't know if that is only for experts, or it would be for those
simlarly situated to your son. If there was actually a trial, maybe
you could get certified copies of testimony, both the plumbers and the
customers. I have no idea about that, or if it would be admitted.
Find out how much copies are also. In Baltimore it used to be a
dollar a page, but a neighbor had the neighborhood covenants
photostated and they were only a quarter a page. I don't know if that
is because a new county clerk lowered the price, or because there is a
difference between trial transcripts** and public documents of other
**I once had to sue someone in District court, not small claims, and
the county clerk people had a list of sample real cases. If you said
you wanted to get an injunction, as I did, they had an good injunction
case they would give you to read. Then I had copied enough pages to
duplicate the format and wrote up my own papers. I did fairly well
for a first case, for a bad law school student and dropout. I forced
them to have new HOA elections where both my nemisis (the prior
president) and I lost, because the neighbors who hadn't followed
things couldn't be sure who was wrong or right. But I was totally
unprepared when the judge heard my motion for immediate trial(or
whatever my motion was called) and I didn't know how to "compel
production" of the items I subpoenad. The other side, which had a
real lawyer paid for by the HOA's insurance, refused to produce every
single thing I asked for (I think that is typical, especially when
they think the other side won't know what to do next), and I didn't
know, at the time, what to do next. but I'm still glad I did it.
The president who lost came back the following year, and has been
president ever since, since no one wants the job. In the last year or
two she seems to think we're friends, and since I ran for the board
again last month, she said she wanted me to win and that she voted for
me. At first I believed her, but then I thought she was just putting
me off guard so she could steal another election. But I won (along
with 4 others) so I'm not sure what is going on. She probably doesn't
think she ever did anything wrong, so she's figures I respect her.
(Before the election years ago, she said "Don't bother handing in any
proxies because I'm going to destroy them." And she basically did
that. Two weeks afterwards she seemed to sincerely not remember
saying what she said. Amazing.)
You should get a detailed statement of who was there and what hours.
Before things look real bad (although they may foresee a dispute
anyhow) you want to know who should be testifying at the trial.
And not just materials but what materials and how much. The new
plumber may be able to tell if they were used or not, but don't say
......can be supervised by a local property manager. It seems the son is not
in the same city as the property he owns, which is a really bad mistake
unless there's a property management company involved.
If it goes to trial, you will need a professional plumber to say in
person, or maybe by affidavit, all the good things that people here
have said. You won't get anywhere quoting a bascially anonymous voice
on the net, and you wont' get anywhere saying, I was told....
A judge can use stuff he already knows, like about plumbing but I
don't know how anyone could know the answer to some of these questions
without looking at the pipes now.
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