Contract how do I know if it’s valid?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I had a contract with a house painter to paint my house for $3,000. He did about half the work and then never showed up again. I need the rest of the house painted. We did have something written down on paper, but I am wondering if it’s an enforceable contract and whether I could take this case to small claim’s court and have him either give me some of my money back or force him to finish the job.” 

What is a contract?

A contract is a formally and legally binding agreement between two or more parties. And while lawyers like to draw up elaborate contracts which are incomprehensible without a legal degree, legalese does not have to be part of a contract to make it valid. In fact, it’s actually best to construct a contract which uses common English and can be understood by all parties involved.

So, what needs to be in a contract to make it valid and legally enforceable? The requirements are quite simple. First, all parties must be in agreement, which means that one party made an offer (i.e. I will paint your house) and the other party accepted the offer (i.e. I will accept your offer to paint my house).

Next, something of value must be exchanged. This requirement is also quite simple. For example, the painter offered his service and you agreed to exchange something else (i.e. a cash payment) for the services rendered.

What if the contract is not in writing?

You mentioned you had a written contract with the painter, and this is best, but a contract generally does not have to be in writing to be enforceable. Exceptions exist, however, if the contract was for a real estate sale or purchase or if the contract was going to last for more than one year.

Attorneys will tell you, however, that it’s always best to get legal agreements in writing because of issues like the one you are facing now. Contractual agreements which are not in writing can be difficult to enforce or to prove.

If you have questions about what type of contracts must be in writing you can discuss your case with a contract lawyer or review the laws of your state.

Offer and acceptance

So, let’s take a closer look at the agreement you had with the painter and determine the strength of your case. We mentioned above that there must be an agreement. More specifically, there must be an offer made by one party and an acceptance of the offer by the other party. You mentioned that the painter made an offer to paint your house for $3,000. Not only did you accept the offer, but the painter started performing the work, an indication that he understood that the offer was accepted.

Note, in some cases, if you had not accepted the offer or you made a counter-offer concerning one or more of the most important terms of his offer then a valid contract may not exist.

How do I enforce the contract?

Given the information provided it should not be too difficult to prove that you and the painter had a contract for him to paint your house. So, what do you do about the contract? How do you enforce it?

The first step is to contact the painter and discuss the issue with him. Does he intend to complete the work? Is there a valid reason for the delay? Hopefully, he will willingly come back and finish the job.

If he refuses or you are unable to contact him, you may be able to file a claim in small claims court to recover any loss or damages. For example, if you paid him for work he has not done this might be the best way to recover the monies.

If, however, you have not paid him but just need the work completed you’ll have to decide if filing a case against him to get him to do the work is worth the effort or if you just want to cut your losses and find another painter you can trust.

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