I’m a tradesman. How do I resolve a dispute over work with a client?
Your first step should be to contact your client and try and reach an agreement you can both be happy with. If you have tried resolving the dispute yourself and that hasn’t worked then the Disputes Tribunal can be a cheap and quick way to sort the problem out. This will only be an option if the amount in dispute is under $15,000 (or $20,000 if both parties agree). You'll also find information about resolving disputes relating to residential building work, on our Home improvements page.
If you need more information, contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau.
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I did repairs on an appliance for a customer, but they have never come to pick it up or pay me. Can I sell the appliance to cover my costs?
Presumably you have tried to contact your customer to tell them that the repairs have been completed. If you have done this and your customer has not been in touch for two months or more, you can sell the appliance by auction, to recoup your costs (this is called a repairer’s lien).
You’ll need to give your customer one week’s notice before the auction, for example by writing to them or putting an advertisement in the local paper. Your notice should include how much the customer owes you, a description of the item and the details of the auction.
If there is any money left over from the sale after you have reimbursed yourself for the costs of the repair work, the advertisement and the auction, you’ll need to pay it to the Registrar of the nearest District Court. Your customer may claim that money from the Registrar.
More about this is on the “What you need to know” tab of this Consumer Protection webpage.
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I booked two nights at a B&B but left after the first night. They have charged me for the second night anyway. Are they legally entitled to do this?
Most hotels and other accommodation providers have cancellation policies and you should be aware of the provider's cancellation policy before you make a booking with them. The cancellation policy should cover both cancellation of the entire booking or a reduction in your length of stay.
For example the policy may state that you will be charged a cancellation fee if you give less than 24 hours’ notice (this advance notice period can vary wildly between providers). Some policies may state that you forfeit the total amount owed for the cancelled nights’ stay; some will state that you will get your money refunded if they were able to give your room to another paying guest for the cancelled night/s.
You may have had a good reason for leaving the accommodation early (e.g. due to an emergency or because the beds were very uncomfortable), in which case it is well worth trying to negotiate with the provider to have the fee waived or reduced.
If you don’t agree with the accommodation provider’s cancellation fees (or are unhappy with the accommodation provided), visit our Complaints and Disputes page for tips on complaining effectively and getting a remedy.
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What are my rights if I'm unhappy with accommodation I've booked through a site like Bookabach?
Websites such as BookaBach and AirBnB provide a medium between holiday home owners and people wanting to rent short term holiday accommodation.
They advertise holiday accommodation and some may also take bookings, receive payments and provide some form of dispute resolution (check the site’s terms and conditions). Generally though, when you book accommodation this way, your contract is with the property owner rather than with the site owner – and if you have any issues with the accommodation you will need to try to come to some agreement with them.
If you are booking accommodation in New Zealand in most cases the accommodation will be covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act - people who offer baches or houses for rent usually meet the definition of “being in trade”.
You also have rights under these if the problem is with the site itself, if the site is based in New Zealand (which Bookabach is). In either case you can take a dispute to the Disputes Tribunal.
If the site and the accommodation are both overseas then you have less protection if something goes wrong – but if you are unable to get a satisfactory remedy to your complaint you can still make use of the site’s feedback facility to express your concerns.
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A builder has been working on my house but it is incomplete and faulty. He won’t return my calls or emails and he won’t finish the job. I haven’t paid him yet. What do I do?
Under the Consumer Guarantees Act a service provider must use reasonable care and skill when doing a job and finish it within a reasonable time-frame. One way to check the quality of the work is to ask another builder what they think about it. If repairs are needed to put the original's builder’s work right, you need to give the builder a fair chance to do so (unless the fault cannot be fixed or is major).
If you and the builder are in dispute over the matter (e.g. you won’t pay them because you are unhappy with their work; they won’t return to work because you won’t pay them) and the contract is worth under $15,000 (or $20,000 if both parties agree), you can choose to take the matter to the Disputes Tribunal. If you decide to take the case to the Disputes Tribunal, you can contact Citizens Advice Bureau for help.
More information about resolving disputes relating to residential building work is on our Home improvements page
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My contract was cancelled after I had already started work on it. What can I do?
When a contract for services is cancelled, the service stops. The consumer doesn’t have to pay any more and the service provider doesn’t have to do any more work.
If you have already started work, and the service you provided was of an acceptable level, then your client must pay you for the work that you did and for any materials that you bought or used. (There is an exception if you gained the contract to do the work by making an unsolicited offer (e.g. you knocked on doors to get business).
If you and the client are in dispute over whether they owe you money for the work already done then you might be able to go to the Disputes Tribunal, as long as the value of the claim is under $15,000 (or $20,000 if both parties agree).
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I asked a tradesman to come and do some work on an agreed day. He didn’t show up and now I have wasted a day’s leave. What can I do?
Try discussing the matter with the tradesman, and give them a chance to explain why they did not turn up as promised. They could have been held up by circumstances beyond their control. You can use the tips on our Complaints and Disputes page to help you effectively communicate with them about what the problem is and what you would like done about it.
If you and the tradesman cannot agree on a satisfactory remedy, you can apply to the Disputes Tribunal for a resolution.
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Is it normal to demand payment for services up front?
This varies widely depending on the industry, the type of service you are paying for and other factors.
For example, it’s not unusual to pay upfront for a term’s worth of swimming lessons for your child, but if you ask a tradesperson to install your television aerial you can expect to be invoiced after the work has been completed.
With bigger jobs (e.g. building an extension on your house) you might be asked to pay some money upfront so that the service provider can purchase materials to get started with the work, or as a deposit. Your contract with the builder might specify that part payments are required when certain milestones in the project have been achieved.
You generally would not expect to have to pay the entire cost upfront and we suggest that you try to avoid doing so in case you encounter any problems with the work being done.
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A repairer came to fix my washing machine. He was only there for 30 minutes but charged me for an hour’s labour. Can they do that?
It’s common for a tradesperson to charge a minimum amount for their services, and the minimum is likely to be what they charge for an hour’s work.
Another charge you should be aware of is a call-out fee for coming to your home.
It’s a good idea to ask the tradesperson about these before you ask them to come and do work.
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Can I claim for consequential loss caused by a problem with a service?
Under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA), you have the right to claim compensation for consequential loss (when a faulty service has caused damage to your property). For example if a builder doing work on your home does something that causes dirty water to leak all over your carpet.
The rules around consequential loss are slightly different if the damage has resulted from the transportation of goods, because this type of service is covered by the Contract and Commercial Law Act and the carrier’s (or mover’s) liability depends on what’s in the contract they have with you. See our Moving goods around page for information about this.
If your complaint to the service was unsuccessful, other options include complaining to the relevant industry association or making a claim to the Disputes Tribunal. More information about how to complain effectively is on our Complaints and disputes pages.