Asked in Consumer Law, Contracts and Small Claims for Puerto Rico

Q: How do I sue someone who never completed a job that was paid for in full?

I paid an individual to install gates and to pressure wash, apply cement topping and sealant, and to correct all drainage issues. I originally paid half upfront so that he could begin working. Later, he asked for half of the remaining balance because he was going through some issues (sick wife, later granddaughter was in hospital, then truck broke down etc...I, in good faith, gave him an additional amount in excess of $1,000. He began working again for about 2 days a week for 2 weeks. I was out of town no work was done and he wouldn't return my calls, emails, texts, or voicemails. After being upset & leaving a not so courteous message he called me. Again, he explained why he hadn't been to the house to work & finish the job. Lots of unforeseen problems which seemed plausible since I had experienced similar. Long story short, I've paid this individual upfront and in good faith the entire amount due for a job where services have not been rendered.

1 Lawyer Answer
Rafael  Pagan-Colon
Rafael Pagan-Colon
  • Consumer Law Lawyer
  • San Juan, PR
  • Licensed in Puerto Rico

A: Unfortunately, this seems the case of a "no good deed goes unpunished". The Law of Contractor Registry, Law no. 145 of August 10, 1995, as amended, requires that any contractor working on residential properties must file a request to be included in the Puerto Rico Consumer Affairs Department or "DACO", by its Spanish acronym, Contractor Registry, with a performance bond of not less than $15,000. This is also included in DACO's Regulation 8172 of March 19, 2012. A contractor who violates these statutes, whether knowingly or no, faces possible administrative fines beginning from $5,000.00. Although this does not help your case, I provide the information for future reference.

From the moment you last spoke with the contractor, you have one (1) year to pursue legal action against him. This person you speak of follows a pattern seen in many other one-man contractors: they aggressively pursue collecting as much money as possible up front, then disappear without having begun or completed the work. They provide and repeat long-winded excuses for why they cannot attend the work, appealing to your basic human decency to keep you from pursuing legal action for as long as possible. Unfortunately, in many cases, the agreement is a verbal one. And although, in Puerto Rico, valid contracts have no requirement of form, a written contract is much easier to bring before the courts.

Then there is the matter of personally serving the lawsuit to the defendant. He may hide or avoid receiving it; and you may need to serve the lawsuit by way of a newspaper edict. Assuming the person does not hide and receives the lawsuit, he may decide not to show up. In which case, if and when the courts decide in your favor, you may need to try to embargo the defendant's bank account.

Having narrated all of this, you have two decisions before you: either (1) retain the services of an attorney to proceed with a lawsuit before a court of law in Puerto Rico; or (2) write off the debt and chalk it up to a painful learning experience.

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