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Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

Hi folks, I had a plumber come to do an estimate for a small leak in the town water pipe right before it entered my house. We weren't getting any water leaking in the basement so it wasn't a big emergency, but we could hear it.

We were on vacation at the time of the estimate, and instead of calling us to give us an estimate, the plumber just fixed the pipe without asking. In the process, he broke one of my lawn sprinkler pipes while digging next to the house (which is going to cost us $300).

The plumber said he gave us a good deal at $1000 for fixing it. I was still a little ticked because if he said he was going to do the work, I would have told him to watch out for the sprinkler pipe. And I was also a little ticked since I never authorized any work to be done.

1) Should the plumber knock off $300 to pay for the broken sprinkler pipe?

2) Is $1000 really a "good deal" for replacing the water pipe as it comes into the house?

Thanks for the help on this! Much appreciated.

A. Spruce
Re: Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

Trade craft 101 NEVER begin work without a signed contract!

If the plumber did not have your permission to do the repair or be on your property, then you owe him nothing for the "services" provided. Furthermore, if he damaged something in the course of that work, then HE is liable for it's repair, not you. There's probably some trespassing issues he could also be held accountable for.

If there is no signed contract/authorization, then you are not legally obligated to pay. I suspect if you really wanted to pursue the issue, you could also go after him for the damages caused to your property. Without a contract, the plumber would also have a hard time going after you for payment.

Now, to the ethics. Having said everything I've just stated, if you're happy with the work performed and the price he now wants to charge, then tell him that you'd be willing to pay for said work IF he repairs what he damaged in the process, including damage to landscaping. If he balks at that, then tell him that the repairs will cost you $300, which you will be deducting from his payment. Also, keep in mind that you now have to deal with these repairs on your own, possibly take time from work, if not just the hassles of this whole mess, which IMHO is worth a few bucks as well.

Re: Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

DITTO, DITTO DITTO to what Spruce said. but there's one thing i would like to add. Prior to paying this scam artist, i would get a detailed written list of the work performed by this guy. then i would contact a couple of reputable plumbers and see how much they would charge to do the work that he listed. if their prices average out to, say for instance, $500, then confront the guy with your info and offer him that much but make sure you deduct the damage he caused to your sprinkler. what he did was 100% wrong and he knows it, i've heard of many of these guys out there. i even had someone show up on a job i was working at once. the customer got 4 estimates, picked me, i started the job as discussed with the customer and had been working there for 3-4 days. the next day when i got there about 7am or so there was some guy stripping the siding on the back of the house. i confronted him and he told me he was hired by the customer, i called the customer and they came right over (they were not living in the house at the time due to a fire) and the customer said that they never hired that guy. he yelled at the customer and stormed of the property.

Bay Area..Ca
Re: Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

Heres my 2cents.......1st,fixing a small leak is the same as fixing a big leak and it sounds like the plumber came because you asked him to but he should of had a number to contact you with an estimate before doing any work even without a signed contract as long as he trusted you to pay him when he was done.2nd,would you have agreed to his estimate or not based on what you would have known then before getting more estimates from other companys?(estimates will vary depending if its a big name company with lots of overhead,man***** and availability compared to a mom & pop shop with less).3rd,it shouldnt cost you anything for him to fix the sprinkler system if he broke it......I hope you get a resolution that everybody feels is fair.

Re: Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

A generous plumber might do a minor fix (such as replacing a faucet washer) and not charge you for it, but I don't know of any reputable contractor that will perform chargeable work without authorization.

The only exception would be if there is a clear and immediate danger to life or property, then they might perform emergency service, knowing that you have every right to refuse payment. If you do refuse payment, the reputable contractor will just write it off and not argue it.

A. Spruce
Re: Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

Another thing that came to mind today was that with no contract, there's no warranty because there's no proof of who did the work. If this guys work goes bad, or something else goes wrong due to his work, then you are SOL and are paying someone else to do the work again.

Re: Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

Did he replace the entire pipe from the street main or meter all the way to the house? Or did he just repair the small section that was leaking?

If the latter, $1000 is grossly excessive. I can't see it taking more than three hours (if he's lazy), and at $75/hour that would come to $225 plus about $50 for parts... about the same cost as repairing the sprinkler line, which is probably a very similar repair.

If he replaced it all the way from the street, it would certainly cost more, but I don't know how much more.

Get another plumber out there to give you an estimate both for the minimum work that would have been necessary to repair it, and for the work actually done. Offer the original guy the lesser of the two, if you are feeling generous. Again, you are under no obligation since there was no contract, either written or verbal, but it might be worth paying the guy something just to make him go away (along with a restraining order forbidding him to set foot on your property :D )

Be sure to offer the second plumber something for coming out and looking at it, since he most likely won't get a job out of the deal.

Timothy Miller
Re: Plumbing Ethics Question, does this sound right?

Howdy, Whoa boys, talking about contract law, i remember business law from college in bits an pieces- contracts can exist without being written or even with any verbal offer and acceptance. Heck these issues are why the courts are so busy. You may have a binding contract with the plumber it may be to a court to resolve but first. The more important issue is what was the reasonable cost for the work done. It is a good idea to ask another plumber for a ball park price for the work. You did not expand on what was necessary to dig to repair the pipe so it may be a huge gouge or not. The sprinkler repair seems very pricey without details was a line simply repaired... Just not enough facts.

But if a minor plumbing repair this bill sounds high but the work in you area, sprinkler repair- is too work may just cost allot in your area. So time to inquire what is reasonable and customary for the work performed. Then consider contacting the plumber in a friendly manner if the repairs are in line ask about the sprinkler damages- it may be that the lines were cut in order to do the job. I know of no locator that can do sprinkler lines... Sounds like an emergency repair to a main water line.
If you haven't had sprinkler fixed yet ask the plumber if the sprinkler repair is included with his fee or what $ to fix it ?
After the cor gill call is complete think it over and make you decisions.
It really sounds like a breakdown in communication that the plumber did not intend to damage the sprinkler or do work you did not want to have done. Sure it is always wiser to have an itemized bid first but emergency plumbing repairs are usually a minimum and or hourly fee. Heck ask the plumber to break down his bill it sounds like you want is to be treated and billed fairly is that not what we all want contractors and customers?

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