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theft of owner property by subcontractor

9 years ago

I was wondering whether people could give us advice on this issue. We are doing a major remodel. Our general contractor is great, and has been doing a great job. We have a lot of construction material stored in a detached garage. In the same garage we had two road bikes. The garage is secured by a padlock, the number is known to the general contracting team and likely, some of the subcontractors.

About 6 months into the project, the two bikes were stolen. A police report was filed. We cannot prove who stole the bikes, but there was no forced entry, and the only people who knew the lock code was my family and whoever the contractor had on-site. Furthermore, one of the subcontractors has refused to cooperate with the police, and is not giving the names of his crew. Lastly, to further complicate matters, this is my GCs last job, as he is retiring after many many years in the business. I don't think that anyone on his team stole the bikes, but I suspect it was one of his contractors but can't prove it!

We are obviously quite upset about this, and we would like the general contractor to pay for the bikes (~$5000). Do you think this is reasonable? And what other advice do you have for this situation?

Thank you for your thoughts.

Comments (55)

  • 9 years ago

    Thank you, Bry911. Roof, I am not criminally trying to charge them, as Bry911 has pointed out. I could take this up in civil court, but would prefer not to, and probably won't. I think the evidence points to someone on their crew stealing the bikes (and my GC has not denied that), and I believe it would be the "right thing to do" to be compensated for it somehow. I didn't invite them to build my house to get things stolen from me. I was just hoping to get some other view points, and thank you for yours.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    bry911:

    "The fault lies with the people who were in the best position to prevent the theft"

    Nonsense. I had a lawnmower stolen from my back yard. According to your interpretation, it would be my fault because I didn't prevent the theft. If that were the case, insurance companies could always get out of paying claims.

    No contractor assumes responsibility for theft just because they have access to ones property. Crooked homeowners could claim theft of thousands, and according to you, the contractor could be responsible because they are expected to take on the responsibility. Now if the contractor is responsible to lock up at the end of the day and they don't, now it's a different story.

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  • 9 years ago

    This is why you have homeowner's insurance.

  • 9 years ago

    Roof35:


    Nonsense. I had a lawnmower stolen from my back yard. According to your interpretation, it would be my fault because I didn't prevent the theft. Actually, you can't claim negligence against yourself. Although, I am not sure a court, or your attorney would mind if you sued yourself. Would you get a separate attorneys for the defendant and the plaintiff?


    To use your example, if your neighbor let you borrow his lawnmower, since yours got stolen, and it too gets stolen from the same place in your backyard, then yes, you would probably be negligent. Negligent and responsible are different things. You are essentially allowed to recover from anyone who had a duty and neglected that duty which led to a loss on your part.


    As for insurance, many of the things that your insurance pays are actually negligence claims against other people, that they then have the right to pursue. If you claim it on your insurance, your insurance has all legal rights to collect and if you win a case, discount or settlement then you must pay your insurance company the lesser of their payment to you or the settlement.


  • 9 years ago

    We do have insurance -- it's just that the deductible is $5k.

  • 9 years ago

    If you are convinced a subcontractor stole it, then I would not report it to insurance. Your rates will go up for little resolution. You might actually get the bikes back if they have not been missing too long. If the sub has an idea who did it, and you lean on the G.C. he can lean on the sub.

    Gabenhon Tsao thanked bry911
  • 9 years ago

    I'm with the group that maintains this is a preposterous position. IMHO, you should have taken better care and not left the bikes in the garage that was accessible by all those people.

  • 9 years ago

    As I said before, the bikes probably should have been secured better so splitting the cost is probably a good idea. But I simply don't understand why people are struggling to hold the G.C. responsible for his bad decisions.


    If your neighbor has a key to your car and he decides to let his brother use it for the day, then why is it so hard to believe your neighbor is at fault? This is exactly the same position the OP was in. The garage was locked so obviously they found the things in it valuable, the combination was entrusted to someone, that someone has the duty to the OP. By not ensuring that other people were trustworthy, or asking for the removal of the bikes if it was necessary to allow general access then he messed up. This is all compounded by the fact that one of the subs that he hired is not cooperating. If everyone was fully cooperating, saying who they gave the combination to, why they think he is trustworthy, then maybe I would feel it isn't fair to the G.C. But someone he hired is refusing to be helpful, so hold him responsible and let him hold them responsible.


    I know this is a bit off topic, but while people seem to be finding this preposterous it is nowhere near some of the more preposterous responsible parties. Just so you can understand how far your duty extends. The IRS can and does collect withholdings from anyone who has signature authority on checks. I have personally seen a secretary who made 30k a year given a 50k bill for unpaid payroll deductions for a company that she had no control over. It was a partnership and she was not a partner, a manager or anything. She was the secretary for the managing partner who thought it would be a good idea if she could pay the electric bill on her own. She didn't end up paying it by the way. After spending 15k on an attorney the IRS agreed she shouldn't have to pay...She felt great about that win...

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    So what exactly are these road bikes? Heavy motorcycle type vehicles or more lightweight, like bicycles?

    What was the OP supposed to do with them, other than lock them up in their garage?

    I have known many garages that hold lots of things of value. It would be impossible to empty them out every time a contractor had access. Not to mention all the countless accessible items and valuables inside the house.

    I don't think you are being 'unreasonable' in expecting respect of your property and trustworthy people to be allowed access to it. But that is so hard, impossible, for anyone to predict or control the behavior of others. What precautions did the GC take to prevent such things from happening? What/how many people had the code for the garage?

    If he ends up hiring crooks, he does have a problem. He should also want to know if things go missing. This is why they are bonded and insured, and we pay for those premiums in our bills.

    What does the GC say?

  • 9 years ago

    P.S. I'd have to wonder what else might be missing from the house or garage. And be sure to check all windows and doors carefully, that an access point hasn't been left behind.



  • 9 years ago

    Nothing else was stolen thankfully. Though they did have some tools stored in a bag ready to heist but either forgot it or left it when it came down to the actual act. In discussing it with the GC, he seemed open to discussing compensation, but asked to wait until the police report is finalized to have that discussion. So we'll see. Thanks for your comment.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Bicycle theft is an organized crime in most communities. If the garage is visible from the street it only needed to be open for a short amount of time for ti to be grabbed. IMO it is a painful and pointless exercise to try to recover the loss from a contractor.

    This is indeed what insurance is for and if the deductible is $5,000 you chose to be effectively self-insured up to that amount. A deductible should be for major house damage and liability; valuable moveable items like bikes and cameras should be covered by a rider for a small additional premium. But you will be able to apply the savings from a lower insurance premium to this loss.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    make an insurance claim against the contractor's policy-- doesn't effect your own. You should have gotten a Certificate of Insurance before the GC or subs started and you can get their insurance info from that and call their insurance company directly. I had some property stolen by a contractor and insurance helped out (didn't give me FMV, but better than nothing)

  • 9 years ago

    My sister and brother-in-law moved out of their house for a few months while it was being remodeled. They were very careful to secure everything of value. However, one of the workers employed by the contractor, left on his own to do some carpentry work, went through the whole house and methodically stole everything small and valuable. This included my sisters jewelry and the gift cards in my nieces desk. And then he disappeared off the face of the earth. I thought the contractor was at fault since he hired the scum-bag and left him on his own for hours and hours. Anyway, my sisters insurance paid the claim but for just a fraction of what the items were worth. Apparently, theft is very common in remodeling situations. My sister liked the contractor and thought he did a nice job but will probably not use him again.


  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I, too, have experienced theft of materials and other items. As well as doors left unlocked and windows open. It is not uncommon for this to happen. You should check and secure all windows and doors at the end of each work day.

    I would think your local PD would be aware of a bicycle theft ring in your area and would have mentioned it, if likely.

  • PRO
    9 years ago

    "We are obviously quite upset about this, and we would like the general contractor to pay for the bikes (~$5000). Do you think this is reasonable?"

    No.

    "But I simply don't understand why people are struggling to hold the G.C. responsible for his bad decisions.

    bry911:

    What specific "bad decisions" did the GC make?

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Many people are advising you to collect from insurance, since that is what it is for and certainly builder's insurance seems like a reasonable place to look for recompense if they are not reporting to your homeowner's CLUE report. Homeowner's insurance is, in my opinion, not. You get a finite number of claims or inquiries before you get dropped by most reputable insurance companies, then you can get stuck into the FAIR pools. Also realize that if you suffer a loss and call your insurance company to ask if you are covered for the loss then you have a claims event on your CLUE report. Even if their answer is, no, you are not covered. Insurance exists to protect you from catastrophic or significant losses, losses that will put an undue financial hardship on you. Theft of bikes hardly qualifies, in my opinion.

    Furthermore, just because you can collect from insurance, doesn't mean that it is the only avenue of collection. Many people have different opinions and that is fine, but I think you should collect from the person who is both responsible and in the best position to pay. If the police say the bikes were stolen by someone who had a combination, and you can prove that you only gave the combination to your family and the G.C., then he is responsible for the actions of everyone under him. Employers are vicariously liable (strictly liable) for the acts of their subordinates.

    The fact that bikes can and do get stolen a lot, makes it worse for him. One thing that factors into liability is the forseeability of the loss. For example, lets suppose I am having work done on my house and my contractor throws a bunch of suits (Brionis and Kitons) into a box and throws them into the garage and leaves it open. On top of them he sets my new Playstation. Someone passing by, sees the open garage and steals the suits and gaming system. It is entirely possible that if I sue him, he will be found liable for the $400 Playstation and not liable for the $75,000 in suits. Because (I am assuming this by the way) someone stealing clothes is incredibly rare, while someone stealing a Playstation is not. However, if it was stolen by an employee he hired he would probably be on the hook for both, as employees stealing isn't rare and is forseeable.

    Now to be fair, you left $5,000 bikes in a garage that you gave wide access to. I am not sure I would stick my contractor with a $5,000 bill. If their fair market value is $5,000 then you might try to recover $3,000 or so from him. Also, if everyone was fully cooperating and you have doubts as to whether or not the subs were involved then going after him seems a bit much. But, again, the fact that one of the subs is refusing to cooperate is a huge red flag. Your contractor needs to be beating the sub up pretty hard (not literally, of course) to get cooperation.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    @ Joseph Corlett, LLC

    All employers are liable for the actions of the people they hire for actions at, or originating at work. His bad decisions were: (1) hiring people who were not trustworthy, (2) not controlling who had access to the code, and (3) if control of the code is unreasonable then ensuring easily stolen items were further protected.

    Edit: (4) ensuring that subs properly secured the garage when they were working in the house. It doesn't matter if a sub stole it, or just wasn't paying attention and left the garage open while he was working. If you entrust a key to a locked space to someone, they have a duty to ensure that the contents are protected from forseeable losses, and are liable if their actions or omissions lead to such a loss.

  • 9 years ago

    It takes only seconds to steal a bike.

    Who knows if it was someone who was legally allowed to be in your garage while it was open. It may have been.

    But it may have been done by an opportunist passing by. And with people all over the place, it might have been done quite unnoticed by others.

    I remember the day that my neighbour said to me, "We've just had a bike stolen." We were all just doing Saturday morning stuff. Someone saw a nice bike, a wide open garage and helped themselves.

    A similar thing happened at an agistment property. Some people drove in, helped themselves to the contents of someones ute, drove out, and none of noticed other than the owner of the ute who was on his horse at the time. He hadn't seen them help themselves but he had seen their coming and going and then realised that his things had been stolen.

  • 9 years ago

    I had something similar happen during my remodel. Both times I was pretty sure who had stolen the items, but without definite proof I let it go.

    The first piece stolen was a piece of furniture which sells at design within reach for $800. It was in new condition. The only person who had access to the house was the flooring contractor. I found out later that he was a shady guy (did not finish a job I paid for).

    The second thing stolen were two lightly used AC units. I put in a new HVAC system but wanted the original units to sell, donate or use for my other property. I had paid to have them serviced. They were only 5 yrs old and since the property had been abandoned, I am not sure if they were ever even used. I am sure the AC techinicians stole them, but again I couldnt prove it. They had asked for them earlier and I had said no. They had cut the identifying numbers off of them. I found out later that my neighbor saw a white van with flood lights with two white guys (this fit the description of their vehicle) at midnight stealing them from the backyard. I have no idea why she didnt call me. I had to let both thefts go. It wasnt worth the hassle to me to pursue them. As I had no proof, I felt it was a lost cause.

    If I were you, I would see if the gc can give you a little break on the bill to help abate the loss - maybe 2k. I would think he would be agreeable, considering how much work you are having him do. I have a cervelo road bike, titus mtn bike and spot hardtail. I know how painful it must be to lose your bikes. Hopefully, the gc will help a little, but if not, I might just let it go and write it off as a cost of remodeling.

    Gabenhon Tsao thanked rockybird
  • PRO
    9 years ago

    Sorry, not reasonable. Would not have left bikes worth 5K there OR would not have given out the padlock number.

    Certainly would follow up (personal contact, BBB, AL, Yelp, etc.) with the sub who is "not cooperating with law enforcement." That kind of post on AL or Yelp would be helpful information for others to know.

  • 9 years ago

    Thank you for all your comments. I realize that in retrospect, the bikes could have been better secured. But we trusted the GC, and since this is our first experience with construction work, didn't realize all the other people that might be on site while my wife and I are away at work. The garage is all the way in the back of the property; not viewable from the street, and with fencing all around -- so I don't think it's a neighbor or someone from the street.

    Yes, it sucks to have our bikes stolen. But it also sucked to not know who took the bikes, and seeing all the construction workers who are so nice, but any one of them could have been the thief. Just leaves a bad taste in our mouths.

    I was pondering why a sub wouldn't cooperate with the police and give the names of his workers, and in addition to the possibility that he is protecting a guilty party, or someone with a criminal history, he could also be protecting an undocumented worker. Neither here nor there, but just a different perspective.

  • PRO
    9 years ago

    The inference that someone simply excercising their Constitutional rights by not cooperating with law enforcement making them guilty is reprehensible. You have no duty or obligation to cooperate with law enforcement. Non cooperation is no more a sign of guilt than a smirk on one's face.

    Truly some disturbing ideas on this thread.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    You're not investigating Isis under the Patriot Act. It's maybe 2K worth of used bicycles after depreciation. That isn't even enough to get your insurance company involved. Lot of over reacting and over reaching here. If someone wants to show up and do their job and not talk to anyone, that NOT a crime. Accusing anyone or implying anyone is guilty can land you in court for libel or slander.

  • 9 years ago

    you wouldn't make a homeowners claim on YOUR insurance, you would do it with the contractor who is responsible.

  • PRO
    9 years ago

    Have you spoken with everyone (all workers onsite), not in an accusing way, telling them what happened and then kindly asking them if they saw anything suspicious?

  • 9 years ago

    bry, you might want to do a little more legal research -- your ex. of the liability for the suits and Playstation is simply wrong - either there was a duty or not, foreseeability or not - the amount of the recovery is not dependent on whether it was foreseeable that the particular item would be stolen; likewise, your story about the secretary who signed the checks being liable for a tax bill is suspect.

  • 9 years ago

    Should we all take a lesson and lock down anything of value whenever we have contractors/subcontractors/workers in our homes? Should we never leave anyone alone on the jobsite, never give them a key to our house, never give them a gate access code, never give them the combination to a locked garage, etc., etc.?

    Why should we if things go missing and our only recourse is to eat the loss of those items lest the threat of being taken to court for libel and slander if we question their wereabouts? Sounds as if anyone working on our homes has free-reign to take anything they want because Homeowner's are clearly out of line to complain if something goes missing, or to even question it.

    Being concerned when $5,000 worth of bicycles go missing during construction is not "overreacting." Sure, they may have depreciated in value over time, but the homeowner is still out the $5,000 they spent on those bikes. Even if Holly's "estimated" $2,000 value is "not even worth" getting the Homeowner's insurance invovled, $2,000 is a lot of money to a lot of people. If a contractor had to lose $2,000 of profit on a job, it would be a big deal. A $2,000 loss to a homeowner is a big deal, too. Personally, if I were go give a GC a combination to a locked area, I wouldn't expect him to share it with everyone.

    Gabenhon Tsao thanked jellytoast
  • 9 years ago

    Personally, if I were go give a GC a combination to a locked area, I wouldn't expect him to share it with everyone.

    Would you pay for someone to stand sentry? They apparently needed in-and-out access to get construction materials stored there.

    I don't think it's overreacting, but I don't think the homeowner has any proof either. Would the GC's insurance company pay - maybe, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Would I make a claim on my homeowner's insurance - probably not. As for libel and slander, it's only defamation if it isn't true. If all you do is ask, not accuse or imply, it's not an issue. If you say "I think X took them", and it turns out not to be true, it IS defamation.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sj I took your suggestion and did more legal research (actually I just found a link that might help you.)

    From law.cornell.edu

    Primary factors to consider in ascertaining whether the person's conduct lacks reasonable care are the foreseeable likelihood that the person's conduct will result in harm, the foreseeable severity of any harm that may ensue, and the burden of precautions to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm. See Restatement (Third) of Torts: Liability for Physical Harm § 3 (P.F.D. No. 1, 2005). Negligent conduct may consist of either an act, or an omission to act when there is a duty to do so. See Restatement (Second) of Torts § 282 (1965).

    Five elements are required to establish a prima facie case of negligence: the existence of a legal duty to exercise reasonable care; a failure to exercise reasonable care; cause in fact of physical harm by the negligent conduct; physical harm in the form of actual damages; and proximate cause, a showing that the harm is within the scope of liability.

    You are correct that you have a duty in both cases, but a failure in a duty doesn't make you negligent. There must be some foreseeability that the failure will result in a loss. Without any foreseeable damage or loss then you are not negligent in your care.


    Again, while this is not the case I was speaking of, I did manage to use Google and find a similar case for you at chicagotribune. I will paste the important part for you.

    But in general, Mongelluzzo [an IRS spokesperson] said, when the IRS tries to collect delinquent taxes, it pursues a company`s top officers and any employees who could have been responsible for depositing tax money deducted from payroll checks.


    There have been many articles on both subjects which you can review at your leisure.

  • PRO
    9 years ago

    Look at the title of this thread. The guy's been convicted already without a shred of evidence.

    Oh, forgive me. This is Houzz. Nevermind.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    The OP says, "the bikes were seen in the garage on a Friday, and on Monday the bikes were gone and the door was locked the entire time. So the bikes were stolen from a locked garage without signs of forced entry. Either my family stole the bike from ourselves, or someone who knew the padlock code stole it."

    That is a shred of evidence. In fact, that is a compelling amount of evidence that someone who knew the combination stole it. Unless your position is that savvy criminals, wanting to put the blame for a theft that the cops are barely going to investigate onto unsuspecting construction workers, decided to spend an hour "cracking" a combination padlock instead of using a tire iron and 15 seconds to remove it.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    These legal analyses/standards are funny. That's what happens when people use legal zoom and google. Google by the way isn't even a legal research tool

    Regardless, this person is asking for help and not arguing a summary judgment motion. I would make a claim with the sub's policy- the person who took your property. You should be able to get the name of the company from your GC if you don't have a certificate of insurance. Then, just call the company and submit your claim with them directly-- keep your own policy out of it.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sorry for your loss.

    You have no proof beyond reasonable doubt to pin this theft on anyone! No footprints, no fingerprints, and plenty of suspects. In my thinking, your contractor is not at fault and no judge in civil court would find him at fault with the overwhelming lack of evidence you have. All you have are suspicions. If these were licensed bikes and the police put out a BOLO on them, then you may have proof once the bikes are found, but until then I don't think there is one thing you can do.

  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    First, I did go to law school, and no I am not an attorney. I assure you that I have not used Google for legal research, but it is a great tool for helping people understand the basics.

    Second, I didn't and don't advise on filing a lawsuit. I am simply noting the reason why it is reasonable for the OP to ask the G.C. for some relief. There is no reason to pursue the sub. If you go after the sub, then even for his insurance to pay you have to provide some evidence he did it. To fairly ask the G.C. for relief you only have to have evidence that a worker did it. The subs don't work for you, he does. Ask for a discount, if he asks why, then go into the details of why he should be responsible, take a lesser amount. If he absolutely refuses you will have decide how much the headache is worth.

    Edit: I really didn't come to get in a legal argument, I gave my opinion why it is reasonable to ask the G.C. for some relief. Most people seem to disagree with me and that is fine. I am not advising you sue the guy, but I think he needs to get a little skin in the game. He is the person who is in the best position to encourage subcontractors to cooperate and punish them if they don't.

  • 9 years ago

    Would you pay for someone to stand sentry? They apparently needed in-and-out access to get construction materials stored there.

    If I gave the combination to the GC, then I am paying someone to stand sentry. If his subs can't be trusted to cooperate with an investigation in the case of theft in a client's home, then they shouldn't be trusted with the combination to an area where valuables are located.

    Do I think one of the workers stole the bikes? I have no idea if they did or didn't. I do think it is reasonable for the homeowner to suspect that it's possible, given the circumstances. I don't think it's reasonable to single one person out without any evidence. It could have been anyone. The person in charge of the project and all the subs is the GC. If the homowner is seeking any sort of resolution, it should be through him.

  • PRO
    9 years ago

    Are you sure that the GC was the only one that had the combination to the lock? I'm not talking other contractors. I'm talking other family members who may have shared it. Like kids. There was a rash of thefts around here from folks opening up garages to gain entry into the homes. Turns out it was the kids friends who got the code from them. The kids didn't think there was anything wrong with sharing the access with their friends.

  • 9 years ago

    the bikes were seen in the garage on a Friday, and on Monday the bikes were gone and the door was locked the entire time.

    Were you living on the property when this theft occurred?

  • 9 years ago

    Homeowners insurance usually covers theft, all you would lose is your deductible. I would go with that and move on.


  • 9 years ago

    file on gc's insurance.
    reasonable solution with speculation omitted.

    best of luck.


  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    It's your fault. You didn't take reasonable measures to control access to the combination or your property. You were a nice guy and you were burned. You don't know who did it. You can file with your insurance, but won't get much for your effort. Your problem is you can't prove it. You can't accuse anyone without proof. It sucks. I'm sure you feel very violated. Some of these subs are pretty shady. Your skilled tradesmen have a lot to lose and are probably trustworthy. Your GC is very embarrassed. If he had any idea who did it, he'd take care of it for you. After all, this taints his reputation. Going forward, lock down everything. Trust no one.

  • PRO
    9 years ago

    "You don't know who did it."

    "After all, this taints his reputation."

    homechef59:

    These positions are contradictory.

  • 9 years ago

    I'm curious as to how this situation resolves. Please come back and tell us.

  • 9 years ago

    Some of these subs are pretty shady. Your skilled tradesmen have a lot to lose and are probably trustworthy.

    If subs aren't skilled tradsemen, then what are they?


  • 9 years ago

    Some subs are skilled tradesmen.
    Some are just muscle.
    An electrician is an example of a skilled tradesman.
    Another sub could be hired to sweep and tidy up the job site (ie. just muscle, no real skill)


  • 9 years ago

    I don't think it has to do with skill level. Honesty, ethics and integrity come from within.



  • 9 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    "Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught."

    J. C. Watts

  • 9 years ago

    Sorry for the loss. Me, I'm still carrying a grudge against my contractor for "borrowing" and ruining my extension ladder and running off with my pry bar from the job site in 2005.

  • 3 years ago
    last modified: 3 years ago

    Flooring contractor..supposedly "Old School" nice guy..

    Turn your back & his subcontractor was hauling all the new flooring/trim out the garage door, right back into the van.. (Richmond, BC . BTW..watch your ass on the "small guys" in Richmond)