How to Ensure Compliance with a Written Agreement -- or Water, Water Everywhere: A Negotiation Story, Part 2
My October blog described how I settled a dispute for $4000 with a contractor who I had hired in 2017 to remediate water issues on my property. I paid the contractor $7174 yet he did not in any way resolve the water problem. You may recall if you read the blog that the contractor asked me to settle the case with him the morning that we were both due in court for our pre-trial hearing. I drafted the agreement that morning, October 18, 2019, and presented it to the judge a couple hours later in the courtroom. The default language I inserted would protect me if the contractor failed to pay me. Specifically, the language stated that if he did not comply with provisions of the agreement, I would ask the court for a judgment for the full $7174.
I worked out with the contractor on October 18th that he would pay me $2000 by company check that would be hand delivered to me by 2:00 p.m. on October 25th and $2000 by company check that would be hand delivered to me by 2:00 p.m. on November 1st. This language was in the agreement in black and white. And then I wondered if in fact the contractor would actually pay me. After all, this dispute had gone on for 2.5 years.
I was in Greenville, South Carolina on October 25th and called my high school son that night who was at home to see if the check had in fact been delivered. The check was not in the mailbox. The next day I called the contractor and, when he did not answer, I left him a voicemail and then texted him. He texted me back that both checks had been delivered and that one check was postdated, He texted me a little later to say that there had been a mistake and that the checks would be delivered on Monday, October 28th.
When I returned home from the weekend away, I tried calling the contractor that Monday. When he did not pick up the phone, I texted the contractor that I needed the check before noon hand delivered to me personally at the house since I was working from home that day. I also texted that he was in violation of the agreement. His assistant called and said that the person who was to deliver the checks was not in the office that day. I was tired of being jerked around after two and a half years. I told her in a no nonsense tone that I would be home til noon, needed the checks delivered immediately, and did not want the mailman to pick up the checks from the mailbox by mistake when he delivered the mail. The assistant talked to the contractor and volunteered to deliver the checks. I asked for her cell phone number and asked her to text me when she was leaving the office for my house.
When she arrived at my house, she had two checks for me: one dated October 28th (instead of the 25th) and one dated October 30th (instead of November 1st). I asked her if there was money in the account so that when I cashed the first check, it did not bounce. She told me there were not sufficient funds, to wait to cash the first check until later in the afternoon, and to text her before I went to the bank to deposit the money. I did as she asked, and the next morning the $2000 was in my account. I repeated the same steps on October 30th and the money showed up in my account the next morning as well.
This contractor had a B.S. from Virginia Tech in civil and geotechnical engineering as well as a Master's degree from Virginia Tech in geotechnical engineering. He came highly recommended by a lawyer I know who specializes in construction law. But when I looked back at our interactions from the beginning, I realized he did not actually listen to the details of what I was telling him, he did not draft a detailed plan for how to remediate the water issues, nor did he observe himself what was happening on my property when it rained. Lessons learned! I still need to interview contractors to solve the water problems on my property after the County installs the stubs at my curb so that the water on my property can connect up to the stubs and flow into the storm drains...stay tuned!
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.