My contractor didn’t finish the work for which I paid him. Can I take him to small claims court?

The simple answer is “yes.” However, the following information comes from the Department of Labor and Industries and may have a bearing on how you want to proceed. If you do not sue the contractor in the manner described below you will not be able to attach the contractor’s bond though other collection methods will still be available. Read the following and review the pdf document at the bottom of this page.

To file suit against a contractor, file a Summons & Complaint

Before filing a lawsuit, ask yourself:

  • Have you provided the contractor with a written list of your complaints and needs, including a deadline for them to respond to you?
  • Have you considered free or low-cost mediation?

If necessary, you can file suit — with or without an attorney — by doing the following:

  1. Expand/collapse Obtain a Summons & Complaint form.

    L&I does not supply these forms. They may be found on some, but not all, court Web sites, clerks’ offices, or for purchase in office supply or stationery stores. Call ahead to make sure they are available. The forms can be hard to find. Also, if you get your forms from an office supply store, call the Superior Court to make sure the store’s form covers the requirements of your suit.

  2. Expand/collapse Complete the form as directed.

    You can include any legal fees, court costs or interest in the summons and complaint.

    To collect from the contractor’s bond, you need to name the bond company as a defendant, and include the contractor’s bond number on the form. Be sure to include: the contractor’s business name, all owners, the business address and contractor registration number. If an assignment of savings is on file instead of a bond, you need to list the bank name and account number in your complaint.

    Get all the necessary information on the contractor, their bond and bond company, at Look Up: Contractors or Tradespeople.

  3. Expand/collapse File your form with the Superior Court in the county where the work was done.

    The court will charge a filing fee of approximately $200.00 and will stamp the form with a cause number.

  4. Expand/collapse Have your summons and complaint served — a legal must.

    A. To serve the contractor’s bond: You must send to L&I three copies of your Summons & Complaint form. Include a $50 check made out to the Department of Labor & Industries—the processing fee. Send by certified or registered mail to:
    Department of Labor & Industries
    Contractor Registration
    PO Box 44450
    Olympia, WA 98504-4450.

    B. L&I will serve the contractor and the bond company with the lawsuit.

    C. To serve the contractor and/or his business you will need additional copies of the summons and complaint served through a third party. See the phone book for process servers.

    D. L&I will send copies of the transmittal letters back to you as proof of the contractor having been served. The suit is only for the amount available in the surety bond.

    E. Keep a copy of the Summons & Complaint for your records.

    F. When your case concludes, if you win, you must send a copy of the Judgment and Order to Labor & Industries within 10 days of the judgment or settlement. If the contractor wins, they are responsible for sending us a copy of the settlement or judgment within 10 days.

Once these steps are complete, L&I will no longer be involved with the case, other than as a record keeper.

Note: This information is intended to be a general statement of small claims procedure. For more detailed information, please consult applicable provisions of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), Chapters 3.66, 4.16, 4.28, 12.40, and applicable provisions in the Civil Rules for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, Rule 5 (CRLJ 5). RCWs and court rules can also be found at your local library. To contact a court directly, search our Court Directory.

What to Do if You Want to File Suit Against Your Construction Contractor

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