Tribunal rules Vernon contractor can't charge for callouts if problem wasn't fixed | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Tribunal rules Vernon contractor can't charge for callouts if problem wasn't fixed

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November 20, 2020 - 6:00 AM

A Vernon plumbing company will have to cover some of its own costs after it took legal action against two former clients who refused to pay the remaining balance of their invoices on the basis the company hadn't done the work properly.

In back-to-back small claims decisions issued Nov. 12 and Nov. 13, Aslan Electrical, Plumbing, Gasfitting, Refrigeration & Sheetmetal Services took two former clients to the small claims court over unpaid bills.

The clients had refused to pay the remainder of their invoices to Aslan claiming issues with the work the contractor had performed.

However, while the Civil Resolution Tribunal ruled largely in Aslan's favour, leaving the clients to pay for the majority of the work, it did rule that Aslan couldn't charge for repeat visits when it failed to fix an issue, and in a separate case made the contractor cover the bill from a rival plumbing company who ultimately did fix the problem.

In the Nov. 13 case, Aslan took Robert Ordman and his tenant, Marcus Boyle, to the small claims tribunal over an unpaid $1,886 water pump replacement and repair bill.

In the decision, Ordman says Aslan did not successfully solve the problem and the new pump it installed failed. Ordman says he was then left to pay Fox & Sons plumbing, who "quickly made some basic adjustments" and fixed the pump charging $354. Ordman also argued the pump didn't need replacing in the first place.

Ordman decided to pay Aslan $1,455 to cover the cost of the pump and materials but refused to pay for the work saying it was defective and unnecessary. He then launched a counterclaim, claiming damages from Aslan to pay $354 to cover to cost of the repair bill from Fox & Sons, plus $262 for his time.

In the decision, Aslan says the pump was working "as it should" after installation, and that Ordman's tenant wasn't happy with the water pressure in the shower so he turned up the pressure beyond the factory setting.

Aslan doesn't dispute that it then spent 12 hours over three days trying to properly adjust the pressure.

While the Civil Tribunal ruled Ordman had failed to prove Aslan shouldn't have replaced the pump, it did deduct Fox & Sons bill from the total.

The tribunal ruled it was fair that Ordman had "reasonably lost confidence" in Aslan after multiple visits left the pump still not working property and ordered Aslan cover the $354 bill from its competitor. The Tribunal dismissed Ordman's $262 claim for his time.

The Tribunal also struck a $204 mileage charge from the bill finding that because the tenant signed the work order, Ordman wasn't responsible for it. The Tribunal also says it was "not sufficiently explained" why the bill was so high when Aslan's shop was 10 minutes from Ordman's property.

After deductions, the Tribunal ruled Ordman owed Aslan $1,327.

Aslan is no stranger to the small claims court and has filed more than 30 small claims files against former clients over the last three years, with 10 taking place so far this year.

Aslan president Mark Williamson defended his company's track record of using the small claims court.

"Generally we take them because they don't pay their bills, that the only reason I have for doing anything like that," Williamson said.

Williamson said clients not paying bills happens to all contractors but most didn't do anything about it. He said for years he also just wrote off unpaid bills, but when the company got big enough and he had enough staff and time he started pursuing the money.

Williamson also pointed out that the company does around 2,500 jobs a year and the number of clients pursued for lack of payment was tiny.

In July 2019, a judge describes Aslan's claim against an elderly client as "disingenuous" after it failed to fix his furnace and then pursued him through the courts.

In Aslan’s second November case, the company took Jeff Mellows to the small claims tribunal arguing he still owed them $735 after they replaced his hot water tank.

Mellows argued Aslan did not properly diagnose the problem with his hot water tank before they replaced it and the company has no right to charge for service calls after replacing the tank which still left the water lukewarm.

According to the decision, Mellows called Aslan in April 2019 when his hot water tank started producing only warm water and an Aslan plumber came around in the morning and diagnosed that the tank needed replacing. Later that afternoon a new hot water tank was installed.

However, Mellows said the water was still only warm and Aslan visited the property on two more occasions but failed to fix the problem. Aslan disputes this saying the tank worked properly.

Following advice from a friend, Mellows suggested to Aslan that it might be a problem with the breaker. Aslan returned to the property, replaced the breaker which ultimately fixed the issue.

While Mellows paid $1,693.62, a balance of $735 remained outstanding. Aslan then filed a small claims case.

Mellows disputes the bill arguing Aslan failed to diagnose the problem and should have just replaced the breaker. Aslan claims Mellows just asked for the tank to be replaced and it did not ask for a diagnosis.

The Civil Tribunal found Aslan's GPS records show the company only went to the property in the afternoon.

"Based on the GPS records, I give no weight to Mr. Mellows’ allegation that Aslan provided a diagnosis for the hot water tank in the morning on April 23, 2019," reads the decision. "I also find Mr. Mellows is a sophisticated consumer and has experience with hot water tanks. I find it more likely than not that he informed Aslan that his old hot water tank was not adequately heating the water and that he wanted it replaced. I find it was reasonable for Aslan to do so without further assessing the old hot water tank."

However, the Civil Tribunal did find Aslan failed to identify the breaker also needed replacing and it had no right to charge for two service calls.

The recalculated bill leaves Mellows on the hook for $178.29, plus $51 in contractual interest at 19.9 per cent.

In both cases as the parties were partially successful the Civil Tribunal fees were split, costing them $87 each.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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