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Ask the Architect

One job, two contractors

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Q. As a contractor who reads your column, I don’t always agree with you, but generally I find things interesting, especially knowing other people are going through the same things as me. I have a strange situation I wanted your opinion about and also wanted readers to know about, since it has never happened before, to me, anyway. I have a really nice prospective job to do that will keep me and my employees busy through the winter. It’s a complete interior renovation in an upscale, very large apartment. The problem is, I was just told there would be another contractor on the job. Weird, huh? After months of interviews and checking my references, I was told the owner would kind of “bid” items out as we go along, like if my number was too high for finish work in the master bathroom, they would take the other guy, or if they needed me to only do the flooring that week, even though I was supposed to do everything, they would give me a “day or two notice.” Have you ever heard of anything like that? How can I make a living this way? What do you think?

A. Not only is it strange, it’s a great way to lose your business. I wouldn’t even consider such an arrangement. I have experienced similar setups, and I do mean “setup,” when an owner wants a building design, but after many design meetings, walls and spaces finally arranged, structure determined with room for ductwork, plumbing and electrical, the owner hands the job to a mystery interior designer who moves wall locations, violates code, ignores ductwork and plumbing locations — basically wrecking the building’s ability to work as a “system” in favor of random-ordered walls. When the owner does this, it sets us up for failure.

It’s possible that owners don’t understand the consequences of their narrowed thinking. Your dilemma is financial and logistical, and worst of all, you’re being set up to fail at your job, one for which you could end up being blamed for work you didn’t even do. There’s the liability problem with whose workmanship caused damages, whose employee may get hurt because of cross-over work that created a dangerous condition, and whose insurance will be used to cover the scope of the job.

The owner, it seems, wants to be the contractor, treating two competing companies as subcontractors. Maybe the owner has figured out a way to save money on every item while watching workers scrounge for morsels of tasks to try to make payroll that week. This is a bait-and-switch operation where you believe you’ll be doing the work, as a professional, setting up the dates to deploy which employee or subcontractor, arranging for tools and delivered materials, only to get a call the day before informing you that the parallel party will be stepping in. You may regret being set up. Good luck!

© 2020 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to yourhousedr@aol.com, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.