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Contractor: what to do if a subcontractor is causing you problems

Last modified: 2021-10-11 | Approximate reading time 4 mins

Amanda Harvey

Nowadays, there is a multitude of sectors concerned with outsourcing. In the field of construction, a contractor can have recourse to a subcontractor if, for example, they don’t have the time necessary to carry out a given project.

This practice allows one to react to unforeseen events that may arise, in addition to speeding up the completion of a project. This process is very effective because of the technical and economic advantages since it reduces the costs of the contractor.

Subcontracting is based on the presence of 3 people: the owner (the client), the main contractor, and the subcontractor. A first contract will bind the owner to the main contractor and a second contract will bind the contractor to the subcontractor.

In this article, we’ll focus on this second point, which concerns the contractor and the subcontractor. As a contractor, what are the possible remedies if your subcontractor doesn’t meet their obligations? How can you deal with the problem in a professional manner? Read our article to find out!

casques chantier ouvrier sous-traitant entrepreneur litige

Image Pixabay

What to check when you call on a subcontractor

There’s no question for an entrepreneur to offer a contract to the first subcontractor who offers their services. It’s your duty as an entrepreneur to perform multiple legal checks.

Moreover, the Régie du bâtiment du Québec (RBQ) requires the contractor to verify the license categories and subcategories necessary for the work to be performed. This check can be done through the list of license subcategories or the Guide to determine the license required. Another method of verification would be to consult the Register of RBQ License Holders to ensure that the subcontractor has a license and that it fits in the correct subcategory.

You shouldn't be surprised to learn that serious lawsuits can be brought against a contractor who has entrusted renovation or construction work to an unlicensed subcontractor. In addition, the contractor in question faces serious fines, since this failure is comparable to working without a license.

Amount of fines according to the type of offense and the person committing the offense

Type of offense An offense committed by a person (individual) An Offense committed by a legal person 
Master electricians and master pipe mechanics  $5000 to $25000 $15000 to $75000
Incorrect category or subcategory  $5606 to $28028 $16817 to $84087
Working without a license $11213 to $84087 $33635 to $168 172

Source : RBQ

In addition, since March 1, 2016, the construction sector as a whole must comply with a new law from the Government of Quebec. This obligation requires contractors to obtain a valid certificate from Revenu Québec from their subcontractors. This system was put in place to prevent various problems such as false invoices and moonlighting. Beware, because the fines provided vary between $250 and $100,000 for the various breaches.

The responsibilities of the contractor during subcontracting

The subcontractor is a professional and your responsibility towards them will have its limits. In theory, you don’t have an obligation to supervise the tasks performed by the subcontractor's workers, since the subcontractor is responsible for this. However, it’s your duty as a contractor to ensure the competence of your subcontractor in relation to the construction or renovation work that you entrust to him. Likewise, it’s your responsibility to plan the tasks that need to be accomplished and to supervise the work to be done on an ad hoc basis.

Otherwise, if a problem is found, then your criminal liability could be retained and a fine will be imposed. This reality is imperative, even if in practice it’s up to the subcontractor to follow the progress and the methods of execution of the work.

travaux sous-traitant entrepreneur ouvrier chantier recours

Photo : Pixabay

Possible remedies against a subcontractor

There are many cases of disputes between the client and the contractor, but it can also happen that the contractor and the subcontractor come into conflict over the course of a project. As mentioned above in the article, the rules of the Civil Code of Quebec allow a contractor to entrust one or more subcontractors with the execution of certain construction or renovation work. The contractor and the subcontractor will then be bound by a contract known as a "subcontracting contract".

Therefore, if the client encounters a problem with your subcontractor, then it’ll be the responsibility of the contractor to remedy the situation since the contractor remains contractually bound to the customer for the service they request from the subcontractor. 

If the client sues a contractor for poor workmanship observed during renovation or construction work, then the contractor will have no choice but to take legal action against his subcontractor. In addition, the reputation of the entrepreneur will very likely be tainted with bad reviews or web ratings causing damage to their reputation.

Do you need advice quickly before deciding what action to take against your subcontractor?

If you come across a conflict with one of your subcontractors, know that there are now online solutions to quickly get legal advice. OnRègle brings you its expertise in construction law and gives you an answer within the hour, and for a reasonable price. Thanks to this service, you can also make a formal notice, or start an online negotiation directly on the website.

Note: This text presents the options for recourse in the event of problems with a subcontractor. This is not legal advice. For specific advice applicable to your case, please consult a lawyer.


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