Know your rights: Contractor has a reasonable time to complete work

By Richard Alderman
Nov. 30, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.

I hired a contractor to build a deck on the back of my home. He immediately started work and then disappeared for almost a month. Every time I call, he says, "I'll be there tomorrow." My yard is a mess, and I want to get this finished. How long does he have to finish the work? Can I hire another contractor?

The first thing you should do is read any contract you signed. If it has a provision dealing with the time of completion, that terms will control. In most cases, however, the contract will not state a date by which the work must be completed. If your contract doesn't say anything, the law implies that work must be completed within a "reasonable time."

In other words, the contractor must complete the work in the same amount of time as another contractor would. In my opinion, a reasonable contractor would not abandon the work for a month.

I suggest you let the contractor know that you expect him to promptly finish the work and that if he does not, you will be forced the hire another contractor. If you do hire someone else, you could be entitled to damages from the contractor you hired based on any additional sum you have to pay to have the work completed.

Based on what the contractor told you regarding his performance, you may also have a claim under our Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This could entitle to you to up to three times you damages, plus attorney's fees. My guess is that once the contractor knows you know your legal rights, he will show up and complete the work.

I put a few items on layaway about six weeks ago. I made several payments but did not compete the purchase. Legally, how much of my money am I entitled to have returned?

Texas does not have any law specifically regulating layaway purchases. Your right to a refund of any of your payments if you do not complete the purchase is based on the agreement you entered into with the store. Most stores retain a small percentage of your money if you do not finalize the purchase. I suggest you read the agreement carefully to determine how much you are entitled to.

I own a time-share. I can no longer afford the maintenance fees and taxes. How do I get rid of this thing? Can I force them to take it back? Can I just tell them I no longer want it?

Unfortunately, "getting rid" of a timeshare can be difficult. Unlike personal property, you cannot just abandon real estate interest. Even if you tell them you do not want it, it still belongs to you, and you will be responsible for the maintenance fees and taxes. To end your ownership, you must either get the company to agree to take the property back, sell it to someone else or donate the property to another entity.

My landlord has not fixed a serious problem with my bathroom shower. Can I fix it myself and withhold the repair cost from my rent?

What you are talking about is called "repair and deduct," and as a general rule you may not do this in Texas. Assuming you have given your landlord proper written notice to make the repairs (by certified mail) and they affect health or safety, you may repair and deduct only for a few specified very serious problems.

The law allows you to deduct if the repairs are for the overflow of raw sewage, the lack of water or heat or certain housing code violations that materially affect health or safety.

In all other cases, your remedy is to sue for the cost of repairs or terminate your lease. For more information about your rights as a tenant, take a look at my website.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a website at



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