2 photos: left, colorado homeowner looks at broken bathroom fixture. Right, contractor holds sledgehammer over bathroom wall

A recent dispute in Colorado went viral after a video surfaced of the contractor smashing a homeowner’s shower with a sledgehammer. The now-viral video of the dispute shows two people — identified by Colorado Springs Police Department to be Dream Home Remodels co-owners Terry Gregory and Jordan Cazares —  causing damage to a shower and bathroom after alleging that the homeowner failed to pay an outstanding balance of $4,000.

The video illustrates the frustration that contractors often feel when customers refuse to pay — an all-too-common occurrence in the construction industry. In the video, one of the contractors is heard saying, “Is someone going to pay me? Let me tell you something. No contractor in the state of Colorado will fix that when they find out that I took it back because she refused to pay me.”

“We regret that this contract went sour,” Dream Home Remodels shared in a statement. “It has never happened before and is not something that is made regular practice. There was [sic] several other projects included in the contract that she is also unwilling to pay for.”

As other contractors pointed out in social media replies to the story, there are easier, legal options available to construction businesses when a customer refuses payment. “You don’t damage property,” one contractor wrote. “You file a mechanics lien on the house. The court already has ways for this man to seek payment and put the owners in a difficult situation down the line.”

A mechanics lien gives the unpaid contractor a security interest in the property, putting financial and legal pressure on the homeowner to settle the debt, or risk losing their house in foreclosure.

“Utilizing the lien process is a cheap and effective way to tip the scales of leverage from the owner to the contractor, even well before a lien needs to be filed,” said construction attorney Alex Benarroche. “The mere threat alone is enough to let the owner know that the contractor is informed of their rights and serious about getting paid.”

Even if the contractor didn’t have lien rights, others noted, they still have legal avenues to collect. “Actively destroying property over payment is just ridiculous,” said another contractor. “This is why we have smalls claims court.”

In Colorado, a claimant can bring suit in small claims court for any amount up to $7,500. 

“Do I wish I would have just gone the legal route on this one? Yes,” said Dream Home Remodels co-owner Jordan Cazares told police. 

But in the same interview, Cazares also expressed frustration with the legal process. “You know, there have been three people in four years that didn’t want to pay,” said Cazares, “and it was 50/50 […] that the legal route worked.”

“Although mechanics liens are a powerful remedy for contractors to get paid, the statutory notices and deadlines can seem like a daunting and intimidating task for contractors trying to go at it alone,” added Alex Bennaroche. “But it all boils down to a lack of information. Once a contractor familiarizes themselves with their state lien laws, and establishes procedures for every project, the process is relatively straightforward.”

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Contractors have right to payment despite work quality

Many public commenters expressed support for the homeowners, taking issue with the quality of work that Dream Home Remodels performed. 

“I was on the contractor’s side until I went to Yelp and saw the photos of the work they did,” wrote one YouTube commenter. “It is really really bad. I mean BAD. There are spots where the water would leak right through the grout in places and rot the wall behind it over time.” 

Others agreed with the homeowner’s actions. “I wouldn’t have paid him either and would have sued him for what I did give him,” said Michael Reese.

However, despite the outrage, many expressed at the workmanship and an insistence that the homeowner should not have to pay, most mechanics lien statutes were written to protect contractor payments — not the property owner’s satisfaction with the job. 

In fact, work quality actually doesn’t matter when it comes to a construction company’s right to file a lien. Contractors have a right to file a mechanics lien for nonpayment regardless of the quality of their workmanship

Construction businesses also have the right to file a lien even if they haven’t completed work on a project. If the property has been “permanently improved” and the contractor doesn’t get paid for that improvement, they have the right to file a mechanics lien.

Of course, mechanics lien protection does not absolve contractors from their responsibility to perform in a workmanlike manner. Homeowners still have the right to pursue legal action — and compensation — for poor or substandard work.

The challenge of finding good builders has driven growth in contractor review sites like Angi, HomeAdvisor, and Levelset’s Contractor Profiles, which help property owners and general contractors alike prequalify their vendors before they sign a contract.

Meanwhile, Cazares and Gregory may face criminal charges for the demolition of their own work, according to the Colorado Springs Police Department. They may also be penalized by the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, which has opened an investigation into whether Dream Home Remodels held the proper licenses and permits to perform the work.