If you have an emergency with your pipes, you won't have time to call three different plumbers and get estimates or spend time investigating reviews online. You may have to accept the first plumber who has time to squeeze you in. While many service workers are honest, some are not. If you receive a bill and don't agree with the charges or the price, you can dispute it and negotiate pay that is fair for both parties.
Review the Bill Carefully
Take the time to go over the bill one line item at a time and make a list of your questions and concerns. Is there a charge that you don't understand? Were the labor fees above the norm? Was all the work listed on the bill completed?
Compare Rates and Charges
Next, you'll want to arm yourself with information. Talk to a few other plumbers now that the emergency is over and inquire as to what their hourly rate is for emergencies, as this is often higher than a typical call. Ask them what they charge for the same parts you paid for and then compare that figure with your bill. If the hourly rate and part charges are in line with the norm, you'll need to pay the bill.
If not, you'll want to get estimates from the plumbers you spoke with and use the estimates as evidence. Then, take the next step and dispute the bill.
Contact the Plumber
Call the plumber who did the work and let him know that you have concerns about your bill. Inform the plumber that you've spoken with other professionals in the same field, and you found his charges to be higher than the norm. Speak in a calm and friendly manner and offer to negotiate the bill down to an amount that is fair for both parties. If he agrees, you can pay the agreed-upon amount.
Complain to a Third Party
If the plumber is not willing to budge on the bill, you have the option to complain to a third party. The Better Business Bureau is a good place to start, as they will contact the plumber on your behalf. The plumber may wish to accept a lower amount for the bill in order to avoid a bad review.
Should that not work, contact the governing agency that regulates and distributes plumbing licenses in your area. The agency will investigate your claim, and if they find in your favor, the plumber will be disciplined.
Go to Court
The final step when all else fails is to file a claim with the court system. Once the plumber is served, she may wish to settle with you to avoid having to go to court. If the plumber doesn't want to settle, you'll have the opportunity to present your evidence in front of the judge. The judge will then decide how much the plumber is owed for the completed work.
- Whether or not you choose to dispute the bill, don't ignore it. An unpaid bill can lead to collections and judgments which will hurt your credit score.
- If you decide to take the case to small claims court, be aware that you will incur costs and expenses, including filing fees, travel and work absence. The fees will vary based on your municipality's guidelines for small claims court.
Alicia Bodine is a New Jersey-based writer specializing in finance. With more than 13 years of experience, her work has appeared in LendingTree, GoBankingRates, Sapling, Zacks and Pocket Sense.