Legal Question in Construction Law in California

Definition of Job Abandonment

Is there a specific period of time that must pass without a contractor working on a project that constitutes job abandonment? I contracted with a licensed custom cabinet builder for kitchen cabinets. The projected completion date of the cabinet installation (March 9,2005) has long passed. While some delay was due to the need for more electrical work than anticipated (and subsequent plastering), he told me he would install the cabinets as soon as that work was completed on 3/17. As of this date (4/1) he has not started the cabinet installation, though, on the rare occasion that he has returned my call, he has promised he would start various times throughout this two week period. This guy is not simply busy, he is irresponsible. He gutted my kitchen, cut a hole in my ceiling fo run ducting for an OTR microwave, and hired a sub to do the electical, so I have been dealing with him since January. He doesn't show up when he says he'll be here and rarely returns phone calls. I have lost any trust I had in him and would like to be rid of him and find someone who is reliable. What recourse, if any, do I have at this point?

Asked on 4/02/05, 12:42 am

2 Answers from Attorneys

Scott Jarvis Jarvis & Associates

Re: Definition of Job Abandonment

This appears to be a clear breach of contract by the builder. My firm is near you and I would need further information to determine whether we could assist you.

Scott J.Jarvis

Attorney at Law

(562) 597-7070

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Answered on 4/05/05, 3:22 pm

Bryan Whipple Bryan R. R. Whipple, Attorney at Law

Re: Definition of Job Abandonment

First, the contractor's abandonment must be "wrongful" rather than for some justifiable reason such as failure of the owner to make progress payments or have the job site ready and accessible. Sounds as though your guy has abandoned wrongfully.

Next, be aware that the parties can modify the standard rules by inersting an express provision in the contract. So review your contract to see if it says anything about abandonment, contractor caused delays, liquidated damages, arbitration or anything else that modifies or limits your rights.

Finally, the common law of California on the subject of abandonment shows pretty clearly that the contractor is liable for the owner's damages caused by wrongful abandonment, and the owner has a right (perhaps even a duty of sorts) to mitigate damages. This may include finding someone else to to the work. The point at which the abandonment ceases to be minor and temporary and becomes sufficiently material for the owner to treat the contract as breached, and thus to find a replacement contractor, is fact-driven and one cannot state a particular number of days that must pass, but if you act reasonably a court would probably go along with your determination that the abandonment had gone on long enough for you to assume a breach and take steps to mitigate damages.

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Answered on 4/02/05, 3:33 pm

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