I hired a contractor to redo my backyard.

The ensuing project was a battle every step of the way. The work needed to be checked nightly; he cut every possible corner; he took 2 months to complete a job that he said would take 2 weeks. When I tried to discuss the remaining items he became confrontational and called me, drunk.

One item he was responsible for was planting new sod and installing an irrigation system.

He set the sprinkler timer for the irrigation system and planted the sod. A week after the sod was planted I checked the ground and found it was a swamp: completely over-watered.

The grass began to die.

I shut the sprinklers off for 4 days to dry the ground a bit, and then turned the sprinklers back on, on an every-other-day cycle.

The grass is now all dead and needs to be replaced. Two gardeners said it was watered to death.

The contractor insists it was the 4 days without water that killed the grass. He offered to come put fertilizer and new seed down. The downside is--it's very hard to plant grass seed, I doubt he would do it correctly, and I don't want to wait for new grass to grow. I also don't want to deal with that contractor any more.

How can I confront the contractor about his poor work without it escalating?

  • 1
    Hi and welcome to IPS! Unfortunately, we can't tell you what to do here. Once you've decided what your goal is (e.g., ask for a refund, ask for more work, complain to his boss, find someone else to fix it...) and identified an interpersonal skill you need help with, you could edit your question to get advice on achieving that goal. In addition to the links in the off-topic text, you might also find How do I write a good question? helpful to understand our guidelines here.
    – Em C
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 16:21
  • Thank you for the clarification. I've read over the link and edited the question. Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 16:34
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    There is a different branch of StackExchange - gardening.stackexchange.com. If you're seeking advise with regards to your landscaping work itself, try asking there. Also, I used to do landscaping and planting seeds is not really hard if he is doing it like all contractors do. They have a device and spin a wheel and it spits out seeds. Top it off with some hay and voila. It is as easy as that, but not nearly as effective as sod. Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 17:31
  • I edited the question at the bottom, to try to make it more specific and on-topic for IPS, if you disagree or wish to improve on it, feel free to roll it back or improve on it! hope this helps!
    – ElizB
    Commented Oct 25, 2018 at 20:21

3 Answers 3


It depends what you mean by "without it escalating". Of course you don't want it to escalate into a fight, verbal or otherwise. And you don't want to make your situation worse. You need him on board to put it right (begrudgingly or cheerfully, it doesn't matter which, so long as he fixes it). But if you got bad service from, for example, a store assistant, you would "escalate" your complaint to a manager. Escalating a complaint is normal, and can achieve what you want.

As a contractor, I assume he is a self-employed tradesman and has no superior as such to escalate your complaint to. But in most countries, he will be subject to certain building regulations. Tradesmen in some countries must have various forms of registration which require they comply with such regulations. You may have statutory consumer rights. So there are people and places that you may be able to escalate these things to.

Threatening to take someone to court or report them to a regulatory body isn't the first interpersonal solution I would recommend, but knowing your rights is very important before you get into any conversation like this. The old proverb is, forewarned, forearmed. Here on IPS we can put words in your mouth but you never know what is going to come back. Having all the facts, knowing what you can threaten if it comes to that is very important.

From the examples you gave, he sounds like he will try and blag his way out of anything you put to him. But people who try this are less able if they can see you know what you are talking about.

Do your research into your consumer rights. Perhaps talk to some other contractors about the way they would do things (just call a couple as if you are interested in having the work done, and ask the questions). Decide what you are prepared to go through with (ie small claims court, or report him to a regulatory body if there is one). Then contact him and perhaps say something like:

I am not satisfied with the work you have carried out. It isn't working as it ought to. I have given you the opportunity to put it right, and you have not done that.

That is the grounds for your complaint. If you do your research (and I'm saying this because laws and the language used by the law varies between countries) you should pick up standard phrases such as "does not meet agreed expectations", or "does not work as specified". Modify what you say to include the phrases you find. This will show him you have familiarised yourself with your rights.

Then state your expectations. Either ask him to fix it once and for all, refund your money, put it back, or tell him you are not prepared to pay him (if you are sure your rights support this).

If he claims that he does not have to, or will not do something you know as a consumer you can expect of him, then you could choose to say something like:

I was hoping that you would be reasonable and put this right. If I must, I will take this further [and specify what you believe is the correct course of action and what you are prepared to do]

If you want to give him one last chance to do the right thing, you could just add:

Are you sure that this is worth your reputation?


Have you tried non-violent communication styles yet? Non-violent Communication by Marshal Rosenberg

You basically emphatically build up rapport with them first, by listening to them, but then you address your side of the issues after and ask how they can help you.

Be nice, but clear that the situation as stands is not reasonable, but would like it corrected and are willing to work with them to resolve it.

Personally, with construction contractors - I would never threaten them. When you are done with them, you cut ties, post your story (only evidence you can backup via documented sources - to protect yourself from legal counters-suits) to yelp etc.

It may be worth recording the conversations you have - check your laws for your location to see if you can record without telling them (50/50) or their consent (common as long as they know even if they disagree)

I feel like you are probably past the point of successfully resolving this ... save the drunk calls if you can. Get estimates from 2 or 3 other contractors. Judge the new contractors based on their professionalism, showing up on time, returning calls etc. If it's an expensive bill consider - having him return half his billed time for the job or having a lawyer contact the drunken contractor sue them to refund.


Most people are just too damn nice. For example, some of my tenants broke the shower faucet, and they were just too damn nice to call me and tell me they did. So instead they called a plumber, who shamelessly charged them €250 to replace a €20 faucet.

The ensuing project was a battle every step of the way. The work needed to be checked nightly; he cut every possible corner; he took 2 months to complete a job that he said would take 2 weeks.

The subcontractor is using your own niceness against you. He knows you will avoid conflict, so he'll treat you like a sucker. I've worked with people like that! For years! They know how to exploit your unwillingness to say no. You're just too damn nice! All you have to do is to say the magic words:

"You're fired."

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