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Unexpected bill after project completion with NO change order or even verbal indication of additional charges!

TexasConstruction ContractPayment Disputes

We completed a $63,000 pool project and paid the final bill (all payments made at or before the outlined project benchmark was met) ... subs continued having to come back to finish their misc jobs over the past month. Contractor came back today with one and slapped us with an extra $2,700 bill. Not a single item on that bill was discussed as being an extra charge. (Ex: they replaced wooden steps w/concrete steps when we said to do either, completely new gates b/c they couldn't get them to auto-close, etc). We are shocked and curious what to do with this unexpected and very high bill. Thanks!

1 reply

Nov 20, 2018
This would be a very frustrating situation, and one that can be complicated. Generally, disputes over additional bills, change orders, and work performed comes down to an examination of the contract itself. When there is a written and signed change order, it is generally fairly clear that the contractor or subcontractor is entitled to payment for the extra work. However, if there is no signed change order the evaluation becomes more complicated.

Often, a contract may provide for the owner to request additional work either verbally or if a written request is not signed. In such a case, in order for the "change order" to require additional payment the owner must have requested or directed the work, the contractor must have relied on the representations made by the owner, and the work must actually be extra work not contemplated by the original contract.

Generally, absent the above, a contractor is only entitled to payment for the work subject to the original contract. This means that the dispute is often over whether the work performed was part of the original contract or some extra work for which additional compensation is required. Clarity can be hard to come by, though, because what constitutes extra work is often determined by the courts on a case-by-case basis in the event of a dispute.

Additionally, provided all necessary requirements are met, an un[aid contractor or subcontractor may file a lien against the property. Since the county recorder generally does not (and can not) act as a gatekeeper in determining a lien filing's legal validity, even ultimately unenforceable liens may sometimes be filed, which can be a headache for the property owner.

The best course of action in most disputes like this is to talk it out. Avoiding an escalation of the issue should be the goal of both parties, since nobody wants to deal with the time, expense, and other headaches associated with escalating the dispute and involving lawyers or document filings. Talking it out in person and going over what was expected in the original contract, what was delivered and paid for, and whether or not there was any additional work needed to accomplish the job that requires payment is a good step in figuring out where everybody stands and working through the issue. Good luck.
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