Legal Question in Construction Law in Indiana

A contractor filed a lien against my property. There are several aspects of his claim that make me think he will not be able to foreclose the lien:

1. He refused to give me a written contract. At the time he gave me his estimate, I asked if I needed to sign anything. He said no and he assured me that a written contract was not needed. I agreed to pay for all labor and materials directly, so nothing came out of his pocket. I paid for everything as the project progressed including his personal labor as well as the labor of everyone else who worked on the project.

2. The scope of project changed a couple of times. Since the additional items were not part of the original estimate, I asked the contractor to at least provide written estimates for the additional work. He refused to give me anything in writing, preferring instead to tell me verbally what the extra items would cost. Once completed, however, he tripled the amount he said was due and he wouldn't give me any written invoices at that time. (He didn't give me even the first written invoice until the entire project was done, which was about six months in duration.) Since he didn't give me an accounting of his hours to justify the tripled cost, I refused to pay him. The tripled cost, by the way, was for plumbing work that he did himself and I later discovered that he is not a licensed plumber in the state of Indiana.

3. Part of what he's demanding in his lien claim is for demolition work he did on my A/C unit at the very beginning of the project. Since I had been paying as the project progressed, for hours that I could account for, I believed that I had already paid him for that work. I later discovered that he does not have the requisite EPA certification to legally dispose of or reclaim the refrigerant from my A/C unit. Instead, he just vented it to the atmosphere, which is a violation of the Clean Air Act of 1990. I have video of him doing that.

4. Just before he filed his lien, he emailed another invoice to me that effectively doubled the amount that he was demanding. Since he chose to send that invoice to an email address that he knew I didn't check frequently, I essentially didn't receive the new invoice until after he filed his lien. The additional amount claimed in the final invoice was for "fee", a percentage mark up on what he guessed the value of the project was, which he didn't know because he wasn't managing any of the finances. In other words, he made up a number.

Is there any chance this guy will be able to foreclose the lien? Besides the statutes regarding the lack of plumbing license and the lack of EPA certification pertaining to the Clean Air Act, are there any other applicable statutes, such as the Home Improvement Contract Act or codes pertaining to consumer deceptive practices? Should I file a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General's office?

Asked on 2/11/12, 6:54 pm

1 Answer from Attorneys

Kenneth Wilk Rubino Ruman Crosmer & Polen

You may have a dispute over what is properly owed, but that doesn't prevent the contractor from enforcing his rights, especially if you owe him something. He may be able to proceed with the lien. You should not try to defend this on your own--it would be best if you took the matter to an attorney for proper representation.

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Answered on 2/14/12, 12:19 am

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