Crazy Client - do you think there is something we should do?

My husband has just encountered his first crazy client. I did warn him to leave the job alone some months ago.

To make it as brief as possible. He went to see a lady about some electrical work she needed. He gave her the Devis and then she contacted him and asked him when he could start. He is very busy, so told her he could not start it next week as she had asked. She was quite abusive and slammed the phone down on him.

The end we thought. But no, more than a month later, she phones again and asks when he could do it. He gave her a date and she signed the Devis, returned it by lettre recommande.

The day before he was due to start, he received a call from her saying she had no electricity and wanting him there straightaway. He was miles away and told her he could not as he was working at another clients. (This turned up to be nothing more than a power outage by EDF.)

He turned up the next morning. Shutters were closed. So, he got his tools out of the van, waiting for her to get up. (I might add this was after 9am).

Then she threw open the shutters and promptly gave him a lot of abuse, saying how could he leave a woman who was on her own with no electricity etc, etc, ranting and raving.

Husband had had enough. He had other jobs he could go to, so loaded his tools and left.

In her more saner moments, she had told him, and wait for this, a STRESS CONSULTANT in Paris. (Most of my husband's clients are French.)

I am quite happy for this to be the end of the story but a friend asked if my husband had signed the Devis. I said no. The client yes, but not him. So, he said that was OK. But I really don't want any comeback on this. He does not want or need to go back to do this job.

So, question is, do you think he is within his rights to refuse to carry out the work?

my story:

hired a builder. we both signed the devis but only with our signatures. payments were made as per the schedule. the work was never completed in the given time, or at all for that matter and plenty of time was given to do this. the work was substandard to say the least. i sued him, i won, the decision appealed. i won again. he is so heavily in debt, he went into receivership and is now being liquidated (not his choice as he will end up having to sell his portfolio of properties, the deposit for one of these was made with my 2nd 30% payment). it is doubtful that i will see a penny as the social services, tresor public, utility companies and artisans who he didn't pay take precedence. the final court date is scheduled for next march. a total of four years will have gone by from start to finish. a moral victory though and the fact that he has ripped off so many people. hopefully he won't be able to open up shop again (he has done this several times before, so I think the relevant authorities are taking a much harder view of his actions.)

my point of view: there is usually a period where both parties are given an opportunity to resolve the dispute. the likelihood is that she won't sue, because no money changed hands, nor was the work started as well as the sheer cost/time and energy that it takes to see legal action through.

my advice to all: use the terminology/advice as described in preceding posts, as it is extremely useful and paying for the services available and where affordable to protect yourselves. make sure that you have read up on all the things that you should be doing and make sure that the schedule of works is detailed and complete. trust as far as you can see and leave little to chance.

PS. Sorry if I have contradicted some information .... i suppose nothing is set in stone ....

Unfortunately many tradesmen in the building industry, especially British ones, now demand up front payments and if those are made without some guarantee that the money changing hands at the same time that the title to the materials is changing hands. Up front payments for labour should never be made. As architects in the UK we always refused to accept any liability where up front payments were made. Payments always used to be monthly in arrears and then that was reduced to fortnightly in arrears, each payment being certified by the architects for work correctly done and for the right amount of money. Try to avoid weekly payments at all. Many woes on building projects can be avoided by the use of proper contracts administered by professionals familiar with that type of work. Unfortunately few people want to pay fees to an architect, especially on smaller jobs, and so home owners put themselves into difficult situations. Programmes like Grand Designs has launched an army of people into building projects, often scarcely equipped to survive the stress and strain. In the UK we also suffered from an invasion of builders from abroad who wanted to build their way undercutting British builders who were more familar with the requirements. Everything descended into trying to outwit the system by cheapskating but still expecting the same result and big profit at the end. Poles are now being replaced by Bulgarians. Here in France the systems is very different but plain common sense needs to be applied on the payment front too. Builders go bust everywhere.

I have every sympathy with you Shirley. My husband has gone in after so many "electricians", I use that in the loosest of terms, who either had no idea of the Normes, were "too busy" to finish the work, were P&O and also those who thought they knew how to do their own electrics and almost burnt the house down through their errors.


Thanks for that, much appreciated. You hit the nail on the head. So many English people out here just don't understand the differences, which are sometimes great, and get themselves into a real mess! Good luck with your business's and let me know if my bilingual helpline or bilingual services can ever be of help to you in the future. At least you know where I am.

Best wishes,



Thanks for that Robert. Well, of course I would recommend my services but actually I survive and work by recommendation so it's really important that my clients are happy with my work.... And thanks for the good wishes.


Many thanks

Hi David,

I'll try and be succinct on this David but it is a complex subject. Assuming the devis is properly drawn up ( and that is a whole new area), then case law (jurisprudence) says it is valid for three months -unless it states otherwise. In my experience devis usually state that they are valid for acceptance for a period of one month (this is to protect against price rises in materials or labour costs).

So, once the time limit is up, in this case one month, and the client signs, it is up to the business to decide whether they want the business at the stated price, or not.

If they DO want the business, then to be correct and protect themselves and the client (and that is another area to explain) they should draw up a new devis, or an make an endorsement (avenant) signed by both parties.

If they don' t want the business, for whatever reason, they can simply tell the client that the devis is no longer valid, which is correct because the date clause has come into effect, and can add that they don't want, or can't do the job any longer perhaps because they are too busy! OR, that they would be happy to re-quote.

I am not aware of any other rules that apply in this kind of situation. The really good thing about French law, as opposed to English, is that it is written down and clear in the various Codes.

In Jayne's case is is really quite simple. The signed devis, incorrectly signed and completed, arrived nearly a month late. Case closed.


We are not that daft Robert...the builders I have used have agreed a price first. We discuss a realistic date of completion and I make it clear, before introducing the request for a contract, that if they say they will complete on a date, it will not be up for discussion regarding moving the date later. If they refuse the contract, fine. I will find another builder.

I did this because we had one builder who agreed a date and then before starting put the date back a month, then went sick 3 times....sounding pathetically ill when my husband rang him. I realised the builder had number recognition on his phone, so I rang him from my work. He was certainly bright and breezy and when I asked when he would be able to start a job if I employed him, he said he could fit me in right away, so I then introduced myself and told him to get his a*se round to my house and finish the job before I made sure everyone locally knew what a shyster he was.

My builder in France is a Brit who we have known for a long time, he is excellent, a real professional and is registered in France. We pay him by cheque, never cash, and are delighted with him and his professionalism. For my mind its worth being picky and if a 'self respecting' builder is not willing to stand by dates he has given me, that is no skin off my nose, I would rather that than be let down later.

When people build houses financial penalties for run over are common; we intend to build our own house once we have sold the present one, and the builders we will use in the UK expect to have this clause in the contract. It is becoming more and more common.

We had 3 quotes for a roof and you are right, the difference between the three quotes was x 3 the lowest estimate. When we told the French builder his quote was three times more, he immediately offered to do it for the lowest price!

While I agree with you Carol be aware that you are paying extra over for privilege. No self respecting builder is going to enter into a penalty clause without some kind of financial incentive.

That cost may well be hidden but none the less it's idea of French contractors mind you. They appear to think of a number and treble it. A French neighbour had a devis recently for 40,000 euros to re-point her house. Crazy!! At least twice as much as the job was worth if not three times.

Thanks for that- I am not surprised! However if it is time limited and then the customer does not accept within that time I assume that it has expred or are there other rules that apply?

Brilliant Nigel....and you are right...the financial penalty works...concentrates the mind. Dentists in the UK all do that and the numbers not turning up are almost zilch. I wish the NHS would introduce the same. My local outpatients department has a display by the appointments desk with the number of appointments not kept for the previous month. It is always over 1000! what a waste of NHS time!

In the Uk when we have employed a builder, we have a contract drawn up, and we always insert a financial clause. If they quote the work will be completed by whatever date, they agree to reducing the price by a sliding scale if they do not complete on time. Amazingly, when we do that we have builders that turn up every day and complete on time. We had our last builder in France agree to this, and he adhered to the agreement and finished early. I see no reason why the builder cannot have a similar requirement of the customer, after all, its a two way street.


You have my upmost sympathy.When working in the U.K part of my work as a podiatrist was visiting people in their own homes. There was nothing more infuriating than to turn up for a pre arranged appointment only to be confronted by a patient who either had forgotten or indeed decided that they did not, after all, require your services, having not been prepared to wait (I was sometimes pre-booked for several weeks ahead) or for some other reason. They could not or would not telephone to cancel the appointment and became quite agressive and rude when it was pointed out (very politely and calmly) that someone else could have benefited from my time. This became a very large problem over the last few years that I practised and eventually I, reluctantly, had to introduce a financial charge for any appointment not honoured and for which there was no prior cancellation. This quite quickly improved matters.

My point is, although this is your husbands first such encounter perhaps this will not be the last (almost definitely, I would say!) and he could insert a clause in the estimate along similar lines ie a financial charge will be made for any such wasted appointments.

I doubt whether this lady would pay but at least she would no longer contact you and give you any more hassle.!!!


Just to echo what Tracy has already said, good on yer!!

Sorry for doubting your motives and good luck indeed. Sounds like a service to be recommended...

Thank you very much for that Tim, that's exactly what I was hoping for (although did not for one minute expect such detail). I did not doubt the accuracy of what you were saying, my husband and I both run our own business, with my husband being a carpenter so we issue devis' frequently. My husband also does work for the Conseil Generale so we really have to dot all the 'i's and cross all the 't's.

The issue was that many posters were confusing English and French law so we needed the texts to prove that we weren't just making it up.

Once again, that's great information and I will be bookmarking it for future reference. All the very best with your business, you've impressed me already.

Hello David,

If it helps at all a "devis" is not an estimate - as in "estimate" in English. It is a firm offer of work at a price and is governed by strict rules in France. Once correctly written and signed by both parties it becomes a firm contract. This government web site explains it precisely.

This paragraph explains that exactly.

"Le devis en tant qu'estimation par le professionnel des travaux envisagés est juridiquement une offre de contrat, et, à ce titre, il engage fermement le professionnel de manière très précise quant à l'étendue des travaux, à leur coût, mais aussi quant aux délais prévus."

Hope that helps clear this point up.


Tracy, now I have a moment here are just some links which might help you get confirmation of what I have stated:

Good and simple definition of a "devis":

Government website detailing the requirements for a "devis".

where the "Bon pour accord" is replaced by "Bon pour travaux"

Other usefull information for works 'à domicile".

Some other references to the "bon pour accord" requirement.

Index of the Code Civil in relation to "Devis".

and look at the last paragraph."....Quant au client, il est engagé à partir du moment où il a inscrit "Bon pour accord" et signé le devis".

And, just to confuse here is another take on the law:

where the mention " Bon pour accord" or even "Bon pour travaux" is replaced by « Devis reçu avant l’exécution des travaux, lu et

You will have gathered by now that just a simple signature is not enough to make a devis into a contract. In Jayne's case the customer signed "devis" was out of date anyway, so problem solved.

Please do that Jayne and let me know. In the meantime the simple facts are as follows:

Your husband sent a devis dated the 28th August 2012.

The validity of the devis was stated as one month, so valid until the 28th September.

The devis was returned signed and dated the 19th October 2012 and posted RAR.

The signature was not preceded by the mention "Bon pour accord"

In my opinion the devis is therefor not a valid contract and your husband can repudiate it, which is what he wished to do. However, if you really want to cross the T's and dot the I's it would be correct (and polite) to send a letter to the client stating this fact for the avoidance of doubt.

I would be happy, in this instance, to draft the appropriate letter for you, in French of course, which should be sent to the client RAR ( recommandé avec avis de réception) on your headed paper, and that should be the end of it.

Please let me know about the 'any further contact' question and if you would like me to draft this letter for you.


As far as I know, no and I hope it stays that way. My husband has been working so late that he switches off when he gets home but I can check with him this evening.

That is good news Jayne. One final question; has there been any further contact since she threw open the shutters and ranted at your husband. If so, what contact?