Keeping Tabs on Job Progress as a Sub

The cabinet contractor on a ten-unit project worries that the GC is not keeping him informed about the schedule. August 31, 2009

I recently won a bid to build 10 smaller apartment kitchen cabinets for a reservation. I will be subcontracting for the company building the apartments. I am a one man shop. The company has repeatedly told me they still have other things to do before they contact me. They broke ground two weeks ago. Am I being ignored? When should the cabinetmaker be contacted? I should point out I am trying to get my subcontractors license, but I don't think I will get it in time. But the reservation will insure me while I am building these cabinets.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor P:
I have always taken the responsibility to know what's happening at the job. Builders sometimes don't know how long it takes to build cabinets. Drive by and look or call him, ask if it's ready to measure, what's the status? Be proactive.

From contributor C:
I like to take my first look at the rough framing stage. I can't count the times some framer would have had the countertops jutting into a doorway, etc. Easy to change then, harder after rock and trim. Do that ten times and what then?

From contributor H:
You notify the contractor of your lead time and he goes from there.

From the original questioner:
I have called repeatedly and told him I need adequate time to build ten kitchens. I know these apartments can be built pretty quickly once started. I learned that the company has their own cabinet shop, even though the reservation accepted my bid for the cabinets. They broke ground two weeks ago. Am I wrong to think I should have been contacted by now?

From contributor M:
If they just broke ground, you should have at least a couple of months. Contractors typically don't think to call a sub until they are almost ready for the sub's work to show up. They have a lot of other things on their minds. Don't be paranoid about the contractor and his regular cabinet guy conspiring against you. The last thing the contractor wants is for you not to get your work in on time, since you being late would hold up other trades in sequence after you and delay his final paycheck. That's what contractors really fear.

From contributor J:
If you really must know if they are going to use you, you could send a letter that looks very standard requesting their timeline for your work. Remind them that, just like their schedule, you have to map out your production schedule ahead of time too. You could even give them an idea of your production window allotted for the cabinet production, and give it some teeth by saying that delays on their end will cause problems in getting this done. I would follow up with a phone call to the project manager within a week.

From contributor D:
Maybe you've gotten on their nerves by calling repeatedly.

From contributor O:
Well, if I were the general, I would be pretty nervous having an unlicensed contractor with no liability insurance working as a sub. If you have someone helping you, you would also need to have worker's comp insurance. If the CSLB got wind of it, the general would also be in trouble and if the general's insurance company found out, they could retroactively bill him to cover the subs on the job who were not licensed.

From contributor R:
Here are some questions I would ask... Who is your customer? Is it the tribe or the contractor? If it is the tribe, address all your questions to the contact person there who accepted your price. Tell them what you need from the contractor and ask for help getting it. If it's the contractor, you are doing the right things, but that will be little consolation when the time comes to install and they haven't gotten you any information.

A question prior to these is - do you have a contract with either the tribe or the GC? If you don't, you don't have a job yet, and you shouldn't do anything, except maybe look for something else to do since you may get cut out of this deal. If you do, submit your shop drawings for approval and bill for 20% of the job and follow up with a phone call. That should get someone's attention.

If you get no results and you still want to do the work, start calling higher up the chain of command and persist until you get someone who will take responsibility. Express your concern in terms of the job and its success rather than your need for work. If you get nothing this way, move on and don't look back. Life is too short to work for jerks.

From contributor E:
Just out of curiosity, when you say you require "adequate time," did you use that term, or give them an actual estimated time for fabrication? The two of you could have very different ideas on what adequate time is.

If you haven't already done so, I suggest letting him know how much time, in weeks or days, you'll need either for the entire project or per kitchen. Make sure it's clear with no potential for confusion, and from there the ball's in his court.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all for the advice. Yes, maybe I did get on the contractor's nerves, but I just wanted him to be clear on where I stand. I didn't think that was too much to ask. And yes, I told the contractor a couple of times that I needed at least two months. I do also understand his concerns, but the tribe assured me they will insure me through this.

From contributor R:
Do you have a written contract with the tribe or the GC? In this kind of work, a promise is nothing.

From contributor O:
The problem for the questioner here in California is that until he's licensed, a contract for more than $500 does little more than document that he broke the law. If he had a contract with either the GC or the tribe, and they decided not to pay, the courts would not be on his side. It's kind of risky if you ask me.

Here's what the CSLB states:
"Contracting without a license is usually a misdemeanor. Unlicensed contractors face potential sentences of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine, and potential administrative fines of $200 to $15,000. Subsequent violations increase criminal penalties. However, felony charges may be filed against those who contract without a license for any project that is covered by a state of emergency or disaster proclaimed by the Governor or the President of the United States Felony convictions may result in a state prison term as specified by the court."

Hopefully the job is not in an area that was affected by fires, or you could really be screwed. I suggest that you get the license before you do anything like this job. It's not hard. Just get some study guides and it's a piece of cake. By the way, free standing e-centers need no CSLB license.

From the original questioner:
Free standing e-centers?

From contributor O:
You don't need a CSLB license if you don't install anything. You can sell all the cabinets you want without a problem, such as free-standing entertainment centers, or a boat load of kitchen cabinets. If the general is doing the install, everything is peachy. Just make sure you charge the sales tax.

From contributor C:
As a licensed CA contractor since 1982 who has done many different types of projects (and also has a cabinet shop), I can tell you that an unlicensed, uninsured entity is very unattractive to a reputable contractor. And as far as an owner insuring you, the only way that works is if you are a direct employee of that party. There are very specific guidelines that define employee, and this arrangement would not appear to fit into that. Good contractors despise such arrangements, as it diminishes the control they need on a project to insure success. But the biggest issue (even if you can find people that will play) is you have no recourse when someone decides not to pay you. That's right, you can be completely stiffed under the guidelines of CA state contractor laws. This happens all the time and taking it to court will not only yield zero, you will now be on the hook for all that additional cost. Puts you in the absolute worst bargaining position imaginable. As tempting as it is to put the cart before the horse, it can bite you. Keep working on getting licensed while you build your small (uninstalled projects) and work your way up to doing larger projects. Just how low is your bid? What other reasons are there for you being considered? You will most likely be better off not doing this project. My intent is not to be overly harsh, just to impart a healthy dose of reality.