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Crooked Contractor

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Marge: Wait, there's still one last thing that doesn't make sense. Why did you start fixing our roof and just disappear?
Ray: That's easy — I'm a contractor.
Marge: [laughing] That's right, you're all crooks!
The Simpsons, "Don't Fear the Roofer"

When a household needs renovations or repairs, an unscrupulous tradesman will attempt to take advantage of their customer by maximizing the amount they charge, while performing the least amount and lowest quality of work.

The Crooked Contractor comes in two flavors, the Criminally Lazy and the Plain Criminal.

The criminally lazy is paid an hourly wage, shows up late — if at all — and doesn't exactly rush the job, is usually full of excuses whenever you inquire about the completion date, and gets work primarily by quoting unrealistically low costs that they cannot possibly break even on (let alone make a profit), then does everything in their power to maximize cost overruns.

The plain criminal flavor includes scammers who e.g. "inspect the roof" and leave behind holes so large you have to hire them to fix them, or uses the cheapest, shoddiest materials they can find, cuts corners at every opportunity, does astoundingly poor work, then dissolves their business and skips town whenever you go to sue them. On a bigger jobsite, they're usually some fly-by-night operation that a subcontractor (or, less favorably, the general) got for dirt cheap, and they usually roll up with a crew of independent contractors working for well below market value (and, of course, no benefits), then go on to do such a horrendous job or do something so astoundingly foolhardy or dangerous that they have to be kicked off before they cause major property damage or kill someone.

There's occasionally also a third flavor in the form of "dude who bit off more than they could chew" — this is what happens when contractors who are inexperienced or who specialize in one field but are trying to learn the ropes of another take a job that's well beyond what they're capable of. The difference between the two is that the well-intentioned ones will generally own up to their mistakes (that's not to say that weasels don't exist), while the crooks will disappear and leave you with an uncollectable judgment if you manage to sue them.

Offices located next to Honest John's Dealership.

Known to happen in Real Life every now and then. If you end up the victim of his shenanigans, you can contact your local consumer protection agency (if you're American, this tool will help you find the right number to call).


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    Comic Books 
  • Any and every handyman ever to appear in MAD. Clerks (especially post office workers) get equally bad reps. One gets the impression that MAD's writers have a lot of frustration to vent...
  • The Punisher: In one story, Frank's narration explains how a Mafia-owned construction company gets an order for four bags of cement but only sends three. As complaining leads to a nice pair of cement shoes, the builders just order more cement, with the eventual cost being pushed on the taxpayer.
  • Robin (1993): After the Cataclysm hit Gotham a fair number of sleazy contractors started pulling off a scheme where they collected some money for repairing damaged places up front and then left never to be seen again. When some of these crooks tried to pull this on Tim's father and Jack wouldn't listen to Tim's warnings Tim tracked them down, got his dad's money back and turned them in to the police.
  • Spider-Man: One comic had a secondary plot with Spider-Man foe and Anti-Hero Cardiac targeting a corrupt contractor who'd been deliberately making buildings that were unsafe so that when they failed, he'd get more business fixing or replacing them. Cardiac got him to confess in front of the police, then let them capture him, never mind that a confession that was clearly made under duress would never hold up in court.
  • Tintin: In Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald, Mr Bolt takes several weeks to get around to fixing Cptn. Haddock's steps out of apathy.

    Comic Strips 
  • Dilbert has had several strips about this, but the most obvious one is when the contractor promises to come back on Monday, then shows Dilbert the calendar of the service industry's space-time continuum. No Mondays.

    Fan Works 
  • Pipe Fitter in the Friendship is Magic fanfiction Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees of Saturation (part of the Triptych Continuum) hits pretty much every point of both the Criminally Lazy and Just Plain Criminal version of this trope. On the Lazy side of the spectrum he is chronically late, singularly uncommunicative and when he does actually start work he is prone to wandering off for extended breaks that can last most of the day. On the Criminal side of things he has a tendency to overcharge, tries to double bill both Rarity and the Ponyville Town council for one lot of work and threatens any would be competitors from settling in Ponyville (or have established plumbers in Canterlot attempting to travel out to Ponyville).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A plumber in The Godfather, who was decisively outbastarded in about one minute when his client got wind of it, of course.
  • The Mask has the two garage guys, who are rather obviously inventing car defects for them to solve. Once Stanley dons the mask, since they spent so much time talking out of their ass, he gives them mufflers.
  • The Money Pit revolves around this trope. Walter Fielding is swindled into buying a house, only to discover it's a fixer-upper, as every last nook and cranny is worn down enough that it's in need of repair. The contractors he hires to do the job take advantage of the situation by exploiting his trust and finding excuses to repair and rebuild pretty much everything except for the fountain of the peeing angel. Unusual for this trope, they still deliver a perfectly functional house once their work is over — the bigger problem Fielding has is getting the money and proper paperwork.
  • Super Mario Bros. (1993) has Scapelli, who makes his Establishing Character Moment by talking to Daisy about how her archaeology work is getting in the way of his construction contracts like a standard big-shot member of The Mafia and sends goons (who don't even bother to avoid wearing stuff with the company logo) late at night to sabotage the site.

  • Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House in D.C. One from New Jersey, another from Tennessee, and the third from Florida. They go with a White House official to examine the fence. The Florida contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. "Well", he says, "I figure the job will run about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew and $100 profit for me." The Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, "I can do this job for $700: $300 for materials, $300 for my crew and $100 profit for me." The New Jersey contractor doesn't measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, "$2,700." The official, incredulous, says, "You didn't even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?" The New Jersey contractor whispers back, "$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence." "Done!", replies the government official.

  • In the book of Big Trouble Dave Barry wrote about a prison contractor who used garage-door openers to actuate the cell doors. Hilarity Ensues when someone drives by and hits the garage door opener by mistake.
  • Discworld has the Ankh-Morpork Guild of Plumbers and Dunnikin Divers. Motto: NON ANTE SEPTEM DIES PROXIMA, SQVIRI ("Not Before Next Week, Squire").
  • The Father Koesler mystery, Death Wears a Red Hat, features corrupt roofing contractors targeted by the main villain. In part, this demonstrates that the character, having run out of truly evil people to kill, has started on more minor criminals.
  • In Molly Harper's Half Moon Hollow vampire romance series, Jane encounters this in the initially lazy version, where the contractor for Zeb's new house seems to spend more time getting drunk than actually doing work. Then she learns that Zeb's in-laws are paying the contractor to sandbag the work in an effort to get his bride to live at home. One threat later, and the work is being completed much more rapidly.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's story Its Great To Be Back! two recent people who have returned to earth from the moon deal with a plumber who isn't a crook but refuses to help them for petty reasons.
  • Rally Round the Flag, Boys! has landscaper Minton Evans, whose excuses for disintegrating lawns include "them atom bomb explosions." Minton is part of the ruling class of Putnam's Landing, which includes Waldo Pike, an equally dishonest hardware salesman, and Doc Magruder, a family doctor who got his degree from a diploma mill and isn't afraid to ask his patients, "What's psoriasis?"
  • One of Harry Graham's Ruthless Rhymes is a comment on contractors who inflate work time by "accidentally" leaving tools behind:
    I warned poor Mary of her fate,
    But she
    would wed a plumber's mate!
    For hours the choir was forced to sing
    While he went back to fetch the ring.
  • On of the Encyclopedia Exposita entries in Temps is an article from Private Eye describing how the contract to renovate DPR headquarters was from a local firm called Colbeaumans which had a higher bid than other firms, explained by a DPR official named Colbeauman as maintaining "warm relations" with the local community.
    Presumably, the relation he had in mind was his brother the brickie, now Inspector Knacker looks set to make things warmer than either of them anticipated.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The premise of the show Catch a Contractor. Adam Carolla (a former carpenter himself) and a married couple (one a contractor, one a private investigator) visit homes of people who've been screwed over by a bad contractor. Adam and the crew then track down and confront the contractor, and make them come back and fix/finish the job.
  • The Commish had a contractor who stopped working on his kitchen.
  • Criminal Minds: The killers of the week in the episode "Hopeless" are an example of the plain criminal variant — spree killers who annihilate people by the houseful and buried one of their kills within the wall of one of the homes they renovated. Oddly enough, the fact that they don't seem to be bad at their job (buried victim aside) and are consistently getting work (and thus they really are doing all of their murders for kicks) disturb the BAU a lot more than usual.
  • British reality show Cowboy Builders tracks down various crooked builders, and redoes some disgruntled client's unfinished project.
  • In Fawlty Towers, "The Builders", Basil hires O'Reilly, a cheap and unreliable builder who doesn't show up on time. Sybil hires a professional, who successfully repairs the hotel. Basil calls O'Reilly again in order to prove that his original choice was the best. O'Reilly fails miserably. Hilarity ensues.
  • George's jack-of-all-trades mate Jerry from George & Mildred is incredibly shonky, and no supplier will ever take a cheque from him. At least, not twice.
  • Holmes on Homes. Mike Holmes is a general contractor who goes around and fixes what the other contractors did wrong. And some of what the other guys did wrong is freaking horrifying.
    • Holmes points out that in Real Life, most bad contractors are an aversion, as they are often decent people who got in over their heads—e.g. a carpenter who tried his hand at plumbing—but there are some who really are crooks.
  • One episode of Homicide: Life on the Street guest-starred Bruno Kirby as a plumber who had been imprisoned after the deaths of some clients. Their house was destroyed in a gas explosion after he misrepresented his credentials and did installations he wasn't qualified for.
  • The King of Queens but they're not lazy, they're Russian, drinking Vodka before work is a lot more important, and they only get coerced back into actual labour if Doug parties with them, wearing the poor sod out.
  • The Leverage episode "The Snow Job" centers around a contracting company that does deliberately shoddy work as part of a scam to repossess houses.
  • Life had an episode revolving around contractors who would take the roof off a house, then demand more payment than was contracted for before replacing it with a new roof.
  • A few appear in Midsomer Murders, mostly of the scammer variety (one is involved in a real estate scam wherein he claims the house has a lot of problems which he "fixes", allowing his lover at the real estate agency to jack up the price). A lazy variation appears when Barnaby needs something in his house fixed.
  • In the Monk season 7 premier "Mr. Monk Buys a House", Monk moves into this new house. He finds an off-centered lamp, and calls over a handyman he met in a hardware store, "Honest" Jake Phillips (Brad Garrett). He comes to take a look at it, then starts a house-wide demolition project extensive enough that Monk and Natalie are left cowering on the steps as Jake and his assistant "Honest" Ramone hack away at the walls. Turns out he was after a hidden fortune left behind by the last tenant of the house. His accomplice and lover killed that occupant to prevent him from telling the secret to anyone else, though she told Jake about it. Jake stabs and kills her in her house after Monk catches onto her. When Monk and Natalie find the bloodstained murder weapon on Jake's toolbelt, he takes them hostage by shackling them by their legs to a claw-footed bathtub. After finding the money, he shoots and kills Ramone, before Monk and Natalie knock him out by pushing a wall down on him. They manage to crawl down the hall to send up Morse code smoke signals from the fireplace to Stottlemeyer and Disher, who barely arrive in the nick of time as Jake recovers and prepares to shoot his hostages.
  • Only Fools and Horses:
    • Del Boy has been known to dabble in this when the market trading isn't going so well. In the episode "Who's A Pretty Boy Then?", after stealing the job of painting Denzil's flat from Brendan O'Shaughnessy, he then offers his services when Mike says the brewery want the pub painted. Mike says Brendan has already put in a bid of a thousand pounds. Del immediately offers a counterbid of two thousand pounds.
      Mike: Hang about, hang about. Why should I turn down an offer of £1000 and accept one of £2000?
      Del Boy: 'Cos of all the advantages it has to offer, like my unique profit-sharing scheme. The two thousand pounds would be disbursed thus: Five hundred pounds for vous, and five hundred pounds for ve.
      Mike: What, you mean I get five hundred quid?
      Del Boy: Oh, yes.
      Mike: And what about the thousand that's left over?
      Del Boy: We give that to the Irishman and let him do the job!
    • Also done in the famous episode "A Touch of Glass". Del Boy and co offer to clean some chandeliers at a wealthy lord's mansion, and most obviously don't know a thing about how to do so. Cue Falling Chandelier and hasty retreat. Legend has it that the iconic final scene, where Del and Rodney brace themselves to carefully lower the chandelier to the ground only for Grandad to undo the bolt holding up the one they're not holding a tarp under, was inspired by something that happened to the writer's father; fortunately it was far enough in the past that he was able to see the funny side.
  • British series Rogue Traders (now part of Watchdog) has Matt Allwright going after these and confronting them afterwards.
  • One episode of Terry and June featured Terry unreasonably convinced the builders were a bunch of cowboys; at one point, when June offered to make them lunch, sarcastically suggesting she could "rustle up some bacon and beans".
  • In Tracy Beaker Returns S2E12 Grandad there's Xanthe the antique seller. Frank desparately needs money for his grandad's headstone, so Xanthe buys his pocket watch for £100 and tries to sell it for £75,000. She repeats this trick later when Tracy offers her a car with the number plate X4NTHE. Since this reads Xanthe it was worth at least £100,000 to her.
  • In one 80's comedy show, a pair of bad guys kidnap some bored heiress but instead of a ransom note she keeps writing suicide notes. So they take her to a baseball game to try to convince her that life is worth living, and she asked them what they did before they got into kidnapping. 'Fake Roofing'. At the end, she is happily helping them rebuild their failed roofing business by drumming up new customers.
  • The O.C.: "Bit off more they can chew" variant. The contractor who the family hired is taking a lot longer than he should and making a lot of mistakes, and gets defensive when these problems are pointed out. Especially when Ryan pulls out the plans and demonstrates how a minor adjustment will fix most of the problems he's caused and save a lot of time. The contractor is deeply offended that a high-school student thinks he's smarter than him.

  • "Flakes" by Frank Zappa is about these.
  • "Room For Improvement" by The Stupendium is about a handyman who's both crooked and incompetent. Not only do they destroy clients' homes because they can't be bothered to do the job properly — their mistakes include getting rid of light fixtures because "the quote don't include 'em," using paints made with carcinogenic chemicals, smashing through load-bearing walls, and somehow installing a bathtub on a desk — but they also arbitrarily prolong the job for up to two years and take gratuitous liberties with renovations the clients never wanted (like running a bulldozer through when they just wanted the place painted), all the while charging exorbitant fees. They're also ludicrously unprofessional — showing up to the client's home two-and-a-half hours late, leaving after only an hour and a half of work, and mooching all the client's food and drink.
    Contractor: I'm the handyman with the plan
    To retire via cheating cash from your gran
    Old Lady: Do you really need to tile all my ceilings?
    Contractor: That's right, I'm afraid; that'll be ten grand!

  • The 1998 Adventures in Odyssey B-TV episode dealing with forgiveness uses an angle similar to the Bonkers example listed below when it's revealed that the Big Bad Wolf (named Wally in this adaptation and who had seemingly faked wanting forgiveness from the other characters in fairy tale landnote ) was working with one of the Three Pigs (named Ralphie in this version) in a scam so that Ralphie could buy up the resident's land on the cheap and then sell this his brick houses. The others forgive Wally, while Ralphie is arrested by all the king's horses and all the king's men for his masterminding the scam.
  • One episode of Dragnet revolved around a sting operation to bust crooked television repairmen.
  • When I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue did the late arrivals at the Builder's Ball, several of the guests implied this, such as Mr and Mrs Bennett-That's-Twice-The-Estimate and their son Gordon.
  • Chris the Builder, Linda's "live-in builder" in Linda Smith's A Brief History of Timewasting is the Criminally Lazy version; he's "live-in" because he's never actually finished anything.
  • On one episode of The News Quiz, Jeremy Hardy referenced the "bitten off more than they can chew" variant when answering a question about women being encouraged to become plumbers. He said it was a great idea "because you can't get a plumber. And the plumbers you can get are, well, this is a question you never want to have to ask your plumber: 'Look, I'm not going to be angry with you, I just want you to be honest. Are you actually a plumber?'"

    Video Games 
  • Terminal entries in the Fallout: New Vegas DLC Dead Money reveal that the surrounding villa was built by a different construction crew than the Sierra Madre Casino proper to save money. The villa crew's manager, Mr. Yesterday, intentionally built everything slipshod to squeeze every penny he could out of the casino's owner Frederick Sinclair. He embezzled money from shipments, covered up construction accidents, and smuggled in hard liquor and drugs for the workers. It's also implied he murdered a subordinate who tried to blackmail him into getting a higher cut and Made It Look Like an Accident.
  • Ghostbusters: The Video Game:
    Venkman: The Architect?! That's not so bad. The contractor—that's what kills ya!
  • The Hitman 3 Elusive Target Terrence "The Liability" Chesterfield is a building inspector who falls under the plain criminal category. However, while this variety does a very poor inspection of the sites for reasons of being hired on to fix them, Terrence does a poor job with his inspections because he's a Lazy Bum who just can't be bothered. This negligence led to an explosion that killed more people than Agent 47 himself. He got off due to the various landlords that loved himnote  putting together a legal dream team for him, thus leaving 47 to whack him.


    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of Bonkers that does a retelling of the Three Pigs, the Pigs turn out to be this, building an entire town of houses made of cheap materials that collapse at the slightest touch which they intend to sell at high price to make a profit, with them using the Big Bad Wolf as The Scapegoat for their houses falling down by claiming it was due to his "huffing and puffing".0
  • One of the secondary crooks in C.O.P.S. is Louie the Plumber. Big Boss employs him to build hide-outs, secret passages etc. for his criminal empire — and to break into safes and bank vaults. He's also lazy; his Action Figure File Card notes 247 building code violations and two convictions for "use of substandard building materials."
  • Garfield and Friends: Swindler was the Plain Criminal sort in "Home Sweet Swindler".
  • In King of the Hill episode "After the Mold Rush", after the Hill residence sustains minor water damage, a man from an insurance company declares the house infested with mold in hopes of turning a profit from the situation. The Hill family quickly catch on and play his own game after they discover how easy it is to become a certified mold tester, then start testing the conman's own home by sticking the tester right next to Bill's exposed feet.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Aside from the roofer Ray (who is also an example of this and he lampshades it — it's just that he's a nice enough fellow that the fact only Homer, who he's befriended, has seen him leads to worse problems for Homer), the show has this in many episodes, like the plumber who wouldn't do anything about the family's leaking pipe, until Homer did the Stonecutters secret greeting, after which the plumber just tightens one screw, stopping the leak.
    • Averted with "Surly Joe" the foundation repairman, who turns out to be quite friendly and helpful once Homer actually pays for him to do the repair. However, Homer still chases him out of the house in anger when Joe tries to tell him how to prevent the issue from occurring again.

    Real Life 
  • A similar scheme to the one used by Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses (See Live Action TV) was perpetrated in the 90's and 2000's by Dutch contractors when bidding for government contracts.
  • The military contractors who bill the government $19.99 for a chocolate chip cookie can probably be a trope onto themselves.