Tips for hiring a contractor

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Choosing the right contractor is an important step when making renovations to your property. You should be cautious, do your homework and have a high level of trust with the professional you decide to hire.
Here are some things you can do to protect yourself when choosing a contractor, to help ensure that you are making a sound investment.

If your contractor requests a pre-payment:

Contractors requesting pre-payments or progress payment for work must be licensed with the Government of Alberta as a pre-paid contractor. You can verify this by contacting the Consumer Contact Centre at 1.877.427.4088 or at Service Alberta.


Contractors requesting pre-payments or progress payment for work must be licensed with the Government of Alberta as a pre-paid contractor. You can verify this by contacting the Consumer Contact Centre at 1.877.427.4088 or at Service Alberta.

Contractors are required to hold a valid City of Medicine Hat business license, and The City has the authority to suspend or revoke this licence during a License Review Hearing.

Contractors who hold a business licence have met The City’s licensing requirements and are permitted to operate their business within Medicine Hat. Without a valid business license, contractors are not able to obtain necessary building and trade permits.

To find out if a contractor holds a valid City business license (a free service), phone Planning & Development Services at 403.529.8374. Provide the business name, and if known, the owner's name and phone number.

Ask for detailed estimates from many different contractors. When you have decided on a contractor, ask them to provide a comprehensive, written contract that includes both project details and business details. Verbal contracts are hard to prove.

The contract should include:

•  Contractor’s business license number

•  Estimated start and completion dates

•  Full project plans

•  Material and product specifications, including warranty information

•  Responsibility for building permits and inspections

•  Statement of any work that is to be subcontracted (eg. plumbing & electrical)

•  Work schedule, including clean-up

•  Itemized costs and total price

•  Payment arrangements

•  A copy of the contractor's certificate of insurance, showing public liability and property damage insurance

•  Worker’s compensation program information, or if exempt, carries private disability insurance

•  Statement outlining any cancellation rights

Before signing any contract, strike out anything you don't agree with and make sure you and the contractor initial the change. If it is a large expensive project, you may wish to have your lawyer review the contract. 


Ask for a list of completed past jobs and contact information, and call the contractor’s previous clients. The best way to find a home renovations contractor is through previous satisfied customers. 

Many home owners do not check references; instead, they make the assumption that a list of references is proof of good work. This is not always true. In addition to asking references about the quality of the contractor’s work, you should get details about the timeliness, budget, and ease of the project process.

If a contractor is not able to or refuses to provide a list of references, you should not hire them for your home renovations.

Avoid contractors who:

• Come to your door and offer you a special deal (most reputable contractors do not solicit door-to-door);

•  Promise a discount if you allow them to use your home to advertise their work;

•  Pitch high-pressure offers, or "time-limited" offers that force you to make a quick decision;

•  Give you a quote without seeing the job or fully understanding the project;

•  Refuse to give you a written contract outlining the work they will provide;

•  Provide only a post office box as their address, or only an answering service as their phone number;

•  Will not commit to a specific start and completion date of the project;

•  State that no permits are necessary for the project, but will not provide any further clarification;

•  Request that you apply for the permits, instead of them.

Many home projects require City permits and inspections at specific stages, to ensure that the work is done in accordance with the land use bylaw and applicable Construction Codes. 

Obtain copies of all permits from your contractor and inspection reports for your records. This will provide assurances that the all work complies with the various Construction Codes.


Risks when a permit is not obtained

If work has been started or completed without the necessary permits and inspections, there could be consequences such as:

•  Enforcement action issued by a City inspector.

•  Fines and penalties for doing work without permits.

•  Future legal and financial issues when selling your property or making an insurance claim.

•  Having to do more work than was originally planned and budgeted, to fix deficiencies.

•  Having to uncover work that was not inspected (e.g. remove drywall to expose wiring).

•  Potential liability to you, the homeowner, in the event of an accident.

As a property owner, you are responsible to ensure all necessary permits are in place prior to start of the project, even if you hired a contractor who assured you that permits were not required.

To obtain City trades permits for work involving electrical, plumbing, gasfitting or mechanical (HVAC), any contractor you hire must be a licensed professional and be a qualified journeyman in their respective trade. Electrical contractors are also required to employ at least one electrician who holds a Master Certificate if they want to apply for a permit. Some structural work may even require the involvement of a professional engineer. Therefore, if you are hiring a general "handyman", make certain that any work they are not licensed to perform is subcontracted to a licensed professional.

Homeowners trade permits only provide authorization to do a limited scope of work, and the homeowner must be doing the work themselves; it is not transferable to any other person, including a contractor.


We are here to help!

If you have any questions about permits for home renovation projects, call Planning & Development Services at 403.529.8374.

A payment schedule should be clearly outlined in the contract. Many contractors will ask for a deposit. However, if they ask for a large initial deposit to purchase materials, consider that a warning sign.

Contractors requesting pre-payments or progress payment for work must be licensed with the Government of Alberta as a pre-paid contractor. You can verify this by contacting the Consumer Contact Centre at 1-877-427-4088 or visit Service Alberta.

Contractors may also want interim or progressive payments after specific work stages are completed. Make sure the details - exactly what will be done and how much is to be paid - are part of the contract. Insist on a signed & dated receipt for every payment you make.

Before accepting that the job or part of the job is complete, inspect the work carefully. Ask your contractor for a copy of their Final Inspection Report or Approval for Occupancy to ensure there are no outstanding deficiencies with the project. Wait until everything you have been promised is completed to your satisfaction before making the final payment or signing a completion certificate (or a similar document).

Before final payment, check your title

You should know that suppliers or subcontractors may have the right to register a lien on your property if they are not paid for their work or materials. A lien is a notice claiming a right to be paid from the value of your property. Before making your final payment to the contractor, check for any liens on your home, which is available from an Alberta Land Titles office.

Options to consider if things go wrong with your contractor:

Before you run to your contractor to complain about something, be sure that the contractor is actually doing something which violates the contract – or be ready to point to the contract item that is seemingly being violated. Your contract may also have a dispute resolution process. If so, you should follow that process.

If you are dissatisfied with the work of a contractor, it is always recommended that you attempt to talk to your contractor first. You should approach any negotiations calmly and professionally while trying not to make accusations against the other party.
During negotiations, you should clearly communicate to your contractor:

•  Clearly state what you are dissatisfied with.

•  Indicate what action you want your contractor to take to remedy the problem including a specific timeframe.

•  Give your contractor a chance to respond. It's possible that there has simply been a miscommunication.


If you believe that work has been done without proper permits or inspections, contact Planning & Development Services at 403.529.8374.

If it appears that the contractor has abandoned the job and you cannot reach them by phone, text or email, send them a letter via registered mail. State the date you expect the contractor to finish the job and inform them that if the deadline is not met, you will hire another contractor to finish the work using the money remaining from the original contract. Do this only after you have received an estimate from another contractor.

Contact Planning & Development Services if you plan on replacing a contractor. When a permit holder has abandoned the job and does not intend to complete the work, the associated permit is no longer valid and must be terminated. A new permit is required to continue the work which was authorized by the original permit. 

If you are not satisfied with the work, consider lodging a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Complaints can be lodged online or by phoning: 1.800.221.6690 (toll-free).

If you have been a victim of fraud (e.g. you have given money to a contractor who has subsequently discontinued contact, with little or no work being done) contact the Medicine Hat Police Service at 403.529.8400.

In some cases, if you are unable to resolve a dispute with your contractor, then mediation or legal action may be your only alternative. Contact a legal professional for advice.