Sooner or later, no matter how hard you work to run a perfect business, you're going to run into a problem with a client. When that happens, you could be faced with a complaint from your state attorney general, a local attorney, or a consumer affairs agency. Here are things to keep in mind when handling such complaints — and tips for avoiding them:

  • Do good work. Keeping the customer reasonably happy usually frees you from worrying about complaints.
  • Make sure your contracts are legal and up to date. The federal government and most states require contractors to use very specific disclosures in their contracts. Have yours reviewed by a lawyer at least once every year.
  • Respond quickly. Be respectful and respond promptly if you're contacted by a state agency regarding a complaint. These agencies are often easier to deal with than private attorneys, who consumers may turn to if you refuse to deal with the agency.
  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis of how to deal with each complaint. Fighting a complaint might be less cost effective than simply offering a reasonable refund to the customer. The goal is to ensure that a complaint doesn't turn into a full-blown investigation of your sales or installation practices.
  • Be wary of pro bono lawyers or “legal clinics” who represent consumers. Such lawyers often have no cost incentive to settle a complaint out of court and may actually consider your case a training ground for their young attorneys. This type of battle can turn into quicksand under your feet.
  • Consider a more liberal policy of settling complaints if you work in an area with aggressive consumer protection tendencies or high levels of activism (such as Washington, D.C., or California).
  • Consider the use of dispute resolution language in your contract. Carefully worded mediation or arbitration clauses might allow you to keep a dispute private, avoid class-action problems, and eliminate the risks of running into a jury biased against home improvement contractors. —D.S. Berenson is the Washington, D.C., managing partner of Johanson Berenson LLP (, a national law firm specializing in the representation of contractors and the home improvement industry. He may be contacted at (703) 759-1055 or
  • This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.