Experts believe you are taking a huge gamble if you have not completed a comprehensive background check on a contractor before you hire them.

Selecting and hiring a contractor is the most important step in any home renovation project. Therefore, selecting the right individual or firm is not something that you should rush into as it could have disastrous consequences.

Once you have determined what your renovation vision is, you must then determine who will help turn your vision into a reality. The contractor you hire, regardless of trade, should have the following:

Technical knowledge
Appropriate licenses/certification
Proper third-party liability insurance
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) coverage
Relevant job-specific experience
At least three references from past clients
A commitment to get the job done on time and to your specifications

SECURING THE RIGHT CONTRACTOR FOR YOU

You should always ensure you ask probing questions which provide “evidence” to satisfy the above-noted requirements. Questions such as:

How long have you been in business?
May I see a copy of your insurance and WSIB coverage?
Will you be doing all the work or will you be using other subcontractors?
What are you licensed to do? I would like to see a copy of those licenses.
What are the terms of your warranty? What does it cover and how long is it for?
Do you have a written contract for this job, identifying the agreed-to scope of work?
What is the timeline and budget for this project?
Can you provide me with three references from your past clients?
May I see before and after pictures of your past work?
Will your crew be responsible for clean up after the end of each work day or even at the end of the project?

Beware of contractors that do not openly answer your questions. A reputable, professional contractor will not be offended by your due diligence. In fact, they will understand the process and welcome your questions!

Ensure to follow up with the references provided. Ask questions like:

Did the contractor finish the project on time and on budget, as described in his quotation?
Did the contractor adhere to health and safety standards while completing the work?
Were there any problems throughout the project? If so, how did the contractor handle them?
Were you satisfied with the end result? Did the finished project match what was agreed to with the contractor?
Would you recommend this contractor to your family and friends or would you use him again?

DECREASE YOUR LIABILITY!

It is critical that you make sure the contractor has third-party liability insurance and is covered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Did you know that:

It is an offence under the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) for a construction contractor not to register for WSIB coverage.
As of January 1, 2014, the hiring party can be prosecuted under the WSIA for hiring a construction contractor without WSIB coverage.
The fine for a conviction of an offence, under WSIA is up to a maximum of $100,000.
The hiring party may be required to pay any/all unpaid premiums, if the contractor is later deemed to be an employee of the hiring party.
In the province of Ontario, an independent contractor has the right to sue the hiring company UNLESS the contractor has WSIB coverage. Therefore, the best way for the hiring party to protect themselves is to ensure all their contractors have WSIB, as independent contractors with WSIB coverage loses their right to sue.

GET IT IN WRITING!

To avoid any regrets it is always best to insist on a signed agreement. The contract can be simple but should contain specific details such as:

The parties’ names, addresses, contact information such as phone and/or email address and the address of the worksite, if different from the hiring party’s site.
The agreed upon start date of the project. It is recommended that you include a minimum number of hours that the contractor is expected to dedicate to your project. This can be in terms of hours per day or hours per week.

This prevents contractors who commit to working on a site for “6 weeks” but then only work 5 hours per week versus 40 hours. It is also important to determine what days they plan to be on site.
Agreed upon price for the project along with any agreed upon payment schedule.
A detailed description of the work that the contractor is being hired to complete. The description can include pictures, plans, blueprints, drawings, etc. The description should also list the materials that have been agreed upon (for example, ceramic tile versus linoleum tile instead of just stating “replacement of tiles”).
A listing of any building permits that is required for the job with clear information on who is responsible to obtain the permits and who will pay for the permits, as securing these can get quite costly.
Any other information regarding the terms discussed between you and the contractor.
A proviso that all work will be completed in accordance to building code specifications in the city/province in which work is being completed.
Language regarding who is responsible for the clean-up of the site once the job is completed.
A statement regarding the contractor’s responsibility to maintain minimum coverage with regards to third-party liability and WSIB (ask for copies of these to accompany the signed agreement).
Confirmation of the terms and conditions of any warranties covering the work completed.

The most important point to remember when it comes to a written agreement is to ensure that you read it carefully and understand what you are signing. Carefully review the document, sign, date and safely file as you may just need to call upon it one day.

In the unfortunate event of fire, flood or structural damage, resulting from the work of an uninsured contractor, you may have a very difficult time claiming the damage through your homeowner’s insurance policy if you cannot demonstrate that you have acted in a responsible manner by conducting your due diligence in selecting a competent, insured, licensed professional.

It is best not to roll the dice with your family or your most valued asset, your home! You can reduce your risk by playing it safe, reviewing your options, completing your due diligence, and hiring the contractor that is right for you!