With an unclear contract, the door is open to conflict

??????????????????So when two parties have a dispute, paperwork becomes especially important — no matter which side of a dispute you’re on.

When you’re working with a contractor, the most important item is the contract. What it promises will be your main ammunition if you need to fight for a job to be corrected.

If you’re the contractor, the contract should protect you from consumer requests that were not part of the original deal.

This tale is one in which both the consumer and the contractor made mistakes, and we hope you can learn from their experiences.

William Bonnell had a to-do list for his Titusville home.

Bonnell wanted to replace the home’s interior doors with new ones. He initially planned to do the job himself, so he purchased six sets of hardware — the doorknobs and casings — in anticipation of the work he planned to do.

But a company — New Millennium Remodelers of Columbus — came knocking on Bonnell’s door. It offered home improvement services, so Bonnell welcomed an estimate for the doors.

Bonnell signed a contract with the owner of the company, Mauro Adriani, on April 3. It said 10 interior doors would be replaced, and included some other notes.

red“White Hollow inside doors w/All new casings and hardware. 1 year warranty on installation. Warranty on door w/be based on what door they choose after looking at web/site,” the handwritten part of the contract said.

The total amount due was $4,128. Bonnell gave a $100 cash deposit, which was noted on the contract.

Bonnell said when he discussed the contract with Adriani, he asked if the door handles Bonnell purchased previously could be used.

“Mauro told me that they would not use my handles and that his company would supply them,” Bonnell said. “And it clearly says in the contract ‘all new casings and hardware’ are included in the price.”

Bonnell said when the contractors arrived at his home, they didn’t have any hardware.

Because he wanted to get the job done, Bonnell said, he had the workers use the six handles he had, plus a seventh that was in one of the existing doors. They would still need three more handles.

“One of the contractors went and got the three,” Bonnell said.

The work was complete, and Bonnell was happy with the workmanship.

Then Adriani came to collect the payment, and he asked for $4,128.

Bonnell wrote a check.

It wasn’t until later that he thought he paid the wrong price.

“I did not have the contract in front of me at that time to know what I should have paid him,” Bonnell said.

But when he looked at the contract, he saw that he had paid the full contract price, even though he previously paid $100 as a deposit.

He said he called Adriani, but the conversation wasn’t fruitful.

“He said he charged me the full price because they had to buy handles. But he said they had to buy six, when in fact they bought three,” Bonnell said. “So he didn’t even know how many handles were involved.”

Bonnell then complained to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), saying he believed he should be reimbursed the $100 down payment plus the cost of the door handles he provided, which Bonnell remembered to be about $25 each.

The BBB said Adriani didn’t respond to its inquiries, so Bonnell reached out to Bamboozled.

WHAT’S BEHIND THE CONTRACT

We reviewed the contract and the company.

New Millennium Remodelers has a rating of “B-” with the BBB because of one unanswered complaint — the one made by Bonnell.

The company has no complaints with the Division of Consumer Affairs, and it has a valid Home Improvement Contractor registration.

We then had a long chat with Mauro Adriani.

Adriani said the company was supposed to provide the new hardware, but the customer was supposed to pick it out from a web site.

“Hardware for doors can go anywhere from $30 to $1,000 or more based on what type of hardware,” he said. “I could not give them a price on the hardware. The price included the new doors and installing the new hardware.”

Adriani compared it to selling someone a dress and telling them the necklace was included — before the person picked out the necklace, which could cover a wide price range.

But, he said, Bonnell was in a rush when Adriani wrote the contract, so he wrote it very quickly. Too quickly, in retrospect.

“Unfortunately, I wasn’t specific in detail,” he said of the contract.

He said he told Bonnell the hardware Bonnell had previously purchased might not fit on the new doors, so he was better off buying new hardware.

But because Bonnell didn’t pick something out before the install date, he said, his workers used the handles that were already in the house.

Adriani agreed that his workers bought three more handles at Home Depot, and he said the bill came to $157. He said he told Bonnell not to worry about the extra $57.

“I said we will just call it even because of the $100 deposit, and that’s why he wrote out the check for the full amount,” Adriani said. “I said, ‘Don’t worry about my guy taking the time and having to go to Home Depot and buying them. I’m not going to nickel and dime you,’ and he wrote out the check.”

Adriani offered to refund $100 to the customer to bring the amount paid to what was indicated in the contract.

“We’re not talking millions of dollars. I don’t have a reputation for Bamboozling people,” he said. “They technically overpaid based on the contract. It was a mutual misunderstanding, but there’s no way I’m going to reimburse him for the hardware he bought.”

We took Adriani’s offer to Bonnell, but he declined to accept the offer.

“Above all. to me it’s the principle involved,” Bonnell said. “I don’t think contracts should be broken. The contract is specific. It says hardware. It’s clear.”

Bonnell also took issue with the $50 per handle price quoted by Adriani. He remembered the handles to be far cheaper.

He said he checked back with the worker who did the installation, who said he remembered paying $40 total for the handles.

Still curious, Bonnell returned to Home Depot to price the handles. He took a photo of the ones he said were installed in his doors, and they cost $10.97 each.

Now Bonnell is considering a complaint to the Division of Consumer Affairs, after which he said he will rethink his options.

LOTS TO LEARN

So, dear readers, while you might argue that this dispute is over a relatively small amount of money and much ado about nothing, a similar incident could happen easily over bigger-ticket items.

That’s why the contract is so very important — for both parties. The contractor made the mistake of not being more specific in his wording about whether or not the hardware was included. He should have written that the price included the hardware installation, but not the hardware itself — if that’s what he meant. Or, he should have said the customer was responsible for choosing and paying for new hardware — again, if that’s what he meant. If he felt rushed when writing the contract, he could have offered to mail or drop off the estimate after he was better able to review the job.

At the same time, the consumer also made errors. He should have noted the lack of specificity about the handles in the contract. He also never should have paid the full amount requested when the job was done without checking the contract to see if the requested price was accurate.

It’s your responsibility as a consumer to be knowledgeable about what’s required to be in a contract. Read more from the Division of Consumer Affairs.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com.