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Decorator's legal fight for flat refurbishment costs fails

Decorator's legal fight for flat refurbishment costs fails

Monday 30 August 2021

Decorator's legal fight for flat refurbishment costs fails

A ‘mates rates’ flat refurbishment that went more than twice over quote has led to the Royal Court rejecting an appeal against a claim for unpaid work.

Decorator Christopher Carey claimed he was owed £12,226 for work carried out to refurbish a first-floor flat in The Parade owned by Steve and Jackie Wellum.

Mr Carey, who was a friend of the couple, took them to the Petty Debts Court but his claim was dismissed by Deputy Magistrate Peter Harris in February.

He then appealed that decision to the Royal Court, with the appeal being recently rejected by Commissioner Sir Michael Birt, who was sitting with Jurats Collette Crill and Robert Christensen.

Setting out the background of the case, the court said that Mr and Mrs Wellum agreed a £24,175 quote from Mr Carey in March 2018. The scope of the work increased, which prompted the decorator to tell the couple that the job “was a bit too big for me and out of my remit” but he was encouraged to carry on.

In July that year, Mr Carey submitted a final invoice for £50,176. By that stage, the Wellums had paid a total of £32,950, leaving an outstanding balance of more than £17,000.

Pictured: The first-floor flat was in The Parade, above Mr Wellum's former photographic studio.  

Soon after, the couple sent him an email protesting that the job was unfinished and that much of the work was substandard, which had led them to incur charges to complete and rectify the work.

They further alleged that the three-to-four-week estimate had turned into four months, so they had lost anticipated rental income in respect of the flat.

By the time of the Petty Debts Court hearing in February 2021, Mr Carey conceded that he had forgotten to include a £4,900 payment by the Wellums so the amount claimed reduced to just over £12,000.

At that hearing, Mr and Mrs Wellum successfully disputed a number of the claimed extra work carried out and overseen by Mr Carey. The Magistrate also reduced the claim to take into account lost rent, cleaning costs and damage. He also removed a £2,200 cost for carpeting which had not been incurred as the couple had chosen floorboards instead.

Mr Harris also judged that the cost of remedial work for making good flooring, edge trims and skirting would have been more than the final £2,761 of the claim, therefore he dismissed it entirely.

Mr Carey’s appeal was based on several grounds, including that the Magistrate should have recused himself because, it is alleged, he remained in court with the Wellums for around 15 minutes after Mr Carey had left the court in February.

He also argued that the judge had been wrong to disallow the extra work and he should not have concluded that the work was substandard.

However, the Royal Court rejected these arguments, finding no evidence of a conflict of interest and ruling that the Magistrate had reached a reasonable conclusion both on the disputed extra costs and the offsetting that he had applied. 

With regard to whether the work was carried out with the required level of skill and care, the Royal Court referred to photos of significant gaps at the edges of the flooring.

Noting that the Magistrate had been presented with conflicting evidence – in that two witnesses at the earlier hearing, a builder and quantity surveyor, had said that the work was generally carried out to a satisfactory standard – the Royal Court said the Mr Harris had made the right judgment.

“In these circumstances, it cannot, in our judgment, possibly be said that the Magistrate reached a conclusion which no reasonable judge could have reached,” it said.

“The photographic evidence was powerful, [the two witnesses] were not asked about the photographs or the gaps in the flooring, and [Mr Carey’s] explanation for the gaps shown in the photographs could well be regarded by a reasonable judge as unconvincing.”

“[Mr Carey] had therefore failed to prove on the balance of probabilities that he was entitled to any further sum from [Mr and Mrs Wellum],” it concluded.

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