In remodeling and residential building, you can and will run into the occasional issue with non-payment of an invoice for work performed. At that time, your first thought is likely to be something along the lines of “They didn’t pay, I’m not going back until they do.” While this thought is an understandable (and in most cases technically correct) response, be careful and think hard before taking this action.

As a construction attorney, I am always reluctant to recommend that a subcontractor walk from a job for non-payment if it is possible to continue. This is not so much for legal reasons, but for practical ones.

The practical effect of walking from the job is that you are put on the defensive. Instead of arguing later that you performed and were not paid (an easier and more direct argument), if you walk from the job with a half-finished porch hanging from the side of a house, you are left arguing why all of those completion expenses that were incurred by a generally sympathetic homeowner are not your problem. This is not intuitively easy to understand for a judge should you end up in court.

Of course, you can decrease the likelihood of a problem with proper education to the homeowner as to the construction process as well as through language in your contract. The first—education--is key for a smooth project in general.  The second--language in the contract--should back up this education with clear language stating that non-payment equals no more work.

The more that you as a remodeler connect these two dots, the more likely you are to be paid and, if you aren’t, to be vindicated should you be forced (and I mean that almost literally) to walk from the job.