Never fire your contractor.

Unless, of course, you absolutely have to.

I was reminded of this in a recent conversation with a contractor/friend who I’ve worked with on past projects. He had been brought in about halfway through an extensive home renovation to pick up the pieces and finish the project. The owner had reached the point of no return with the original contractor and let him go. My friend was now there to figure out what work had been done, how that work had been done, and what needed to be redone.

Most contractors are hesitant when it comes to finishing someone else’s project, which is why I was surprised to hear that he had taken on this project. And which is why we try to work through any issues between client and contractor. Even as architects, when we’ve been frustrated with how the contractor is performing, we’ve still pushed both client and contractor to come to the table, find a way to get everyone back on the same page, and get work completed.

And for good reason.

No contractor wants to be liable for work performed outside of their control. And I can only imagine how their insurance company feels. To come in mid-project can mean assuming responsibility for electrical, plumbing, and air conditioning work that one hopes are up to code; beams and columns that may already be covered up with finish materials; and installation methods that may not be in line with what the contractor feels comfortable guaranteeing.

Also, no one wants to be in the position of asking for money beyond what the client has already budgeted. Hiring another contractor can mean additional costs associated with removing finished work or redoing work for either quality or liability purposes. The friend I spoke with was in the process of removing new windows over concerns about the quality of the installation. Although the client didn’t have to pay for new windows twice, they are still out for the additional labor involved.

Then does anyone know of a contractor who might want to get involved in a lawsuit? For a client to sue their contractor is not out of the question, especially when significant sums are involved. Hiring another contractor may mean asking them to offer their input as an expert witness, which can place them in an uncomfortable position. Is your contractor willing to sit through depositions and mediation when they could be working on finishing your project? Is your architect?

And I’ve had this conversation and discussed these issues during a past project. We came close at one point to recommending the owner fire the contractor. Except cooler heads prevailed, and we were able to get the project completed. The contractor finished about a month behind schedule, which resulted in some out-of-pocket expenses to extend the owner’s apartment lease. However, the owner was finally able to get in their home.

Even better, they were able to do that without litigation; without watching their completion date move farther and farther away; and without hiring someone else to pick up the pieces.