So you’ve read all four parts of the “Contractor or Conman?” series and learnt how to deal with sly contractors in your future home renovation projects.
Unfortunately, you’ve read it all a little too late and have already fallen prey to some unscrupulous scum.
So what can you do now?
Making a Complaint
If you’re not too sure of what to do or whether you’re in any position to claim any damages, you can start by making an official complaint.
Going to the police won’t be of much help to you, as most of such run-ins with contractors don’t involve any infringement of criminal law. Chances are that they’ll just take your statement but take no action
You’ll have better luck going to local consumer watchdog, the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), for assistance on the matter. There’re the options of filing a case with them at a cost of $10-$50 (excluding membership costs) or mediation sessions to try and reach a settlement.
Though your contractor might be registered with the Housing Development Board (HDB) under its Registered Renovation Contractors Scheme (RRCS), the HDB won’t step in to resolve the matter, as it’s between you and your contractor.
However, if the contractor’s found to have overstepped the terms of the RRCS, he’ll receive demerit points under the RRC scheme Demerit Point System (DPS). These result in fines, suspension from the scheme or even revoking of registration.
The Law Protects You
All these complaints may not do quite enough for you, as you might’ve already lost plenty of time and money.
In general, the Law of Singapore favours businesses and many people get discouraged after making a police report, giving up on claiming their losses because they’re told that the police won’t interfere.
However, there’s one such Act that protects you though: the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) of 2003.
As defined in the CPFTA, it’s an Unfair Practice for a contractor to do or say anything (or fail to do or say anything) that results in you being misled.
It’s also considered an Unfair Practice for a contractor to take advantage of your lack of familiarity with the renovation process.
We’ve mentioned some of the common conundrums contractors pull on unsuspecting homeowners in the previous installments of the “Contractor or Conman?” series.
Here’s how the CPFTA classifies some of them in its Specific Unfair Practices:
– You find that the high quality material you paid for has been substituted for cheaper alternatives, or if you find out midway through project that your “D-B contractor” is actually only a general contractor with an inexperienced freelance interior designer.
(Representing that goods or services are of a particular standard, quality, grade, style, model, origin or method of manufacture if they are not – CONSUMER PROTECTION (FAIR TRADING) ACT 2003 Sect. 4(d)2)
– Due to a vague written contract, you’re refused the full services that contractor promised verbally prior to signing the contract
(Representing that goods or services are available or are available for a particular reason, for a particular price, in particular quantities or at a particular time if the supplier knows or can reasonably be expected to know it is not so, unless the representation clearly states any limitation – CONSUMER PROTECTION (FAIR TRADING) ACT 2003 Sect. 4(d)5)
– You’re a victim of pressure selling and progress is sluggish or non-existent after downpayment
(Taking advantage of a consumer by exerting undue pressure or undue influence on the consumer to enter into a transaction involving goods or services – CONSUMER PROTECTION (FAIR TRADING) ACT 2003 Sect. 4(d)12)
Many have avoided taking their case to court, fearing skyrocketing legal fees and opting not to pursue the matter.
The SCT is a fast and affordable forum to resolve small claims up to $20,000 between businesses and consumers. There, you won’t need a lawyer and the claim fees range from $10 to $200, depending on the claim amount.
Hearing a Claim at the SCT
You should collect receipts, contracts, photographs of unsatisfactory work, evidence of correspondence with your contractor, a written chronology of events and any other physical or documented evidence that might support your case and bring them along when your claim is heard at the SCT. Witnesses are allowed but aren’t necessary.
At the SCT, you and the contractor first go through a consultation session with the Registrar of the SCT, who’ll try to mediate and work out a settlement that both you and the contractor accept. A consent order for the settlement is then issued.
If the contractor is willing to settle the matter in private, he can only do so before the claim is heard in front of the Registrar.
If a settlement isn’t reached before the Registrar, the claim will then be heard in front of a Referee of the SCT, who’s usually a Magistrate, District Judge or Senior Officer of the Subordinate Courts.
If the contractor fails to show up and the Referee deems your claim to be a valid one, he’ll issue a default order in the absence of the contractor. This order will be final and binding if the contractor doesn’t apply for it to be set aside and heard again within a month.
The Referee decides the claim and it’ll be final and binding and can only be appealed to the High Court on a question of law or jurisdiction. Only then will you need to be represented by a lawyer.
So it’s not the end of the road when you’ve been cheated by a contractor.
You’ve your rights and if you know how to enforce them, you’ll be able to recover some, if not all of your losses through the appropriate channels.