I've hired an individual to do various repairs on a mobile home. There were two initial sections that had two handwritten contracts, and they were (mostly) completed. After those two contracts, I gave him $560 to buy flooring materials, and didn't yet sign any contract regarding that. He returned with about $160 worth of flooring, and since then has not done any work and stopped responding to me.

What legal action could I take that would be most likely to recover the money? This takes place in Wisconsin.

  • 1
    By including the tag for small-claims-court, you seem to be aware that you can file your complaint there, which is accurate. It is therefore unclear what exactly you are asking. Oct 11, 2022 at 13:11
  • Sorry for the ambiguity, I included the tag because I know it's an option and thought it had relevance, but I was warned by a friend that even if I win the case, they may not end up paying anything back to me and it will only serve as a bad mark on them. I'm unsure if there are better options to consider
    – shrimp
    Oct 11, 2022 at 13:14
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    "even if I win the case, they may not end up paying anything back to me". Suing (and prevailing) in trial court does not preempt that possibility either, except that the process is more expensive [than small claims] even if you litigate in pro per. Unless you would like to take this as an opportunity to gain litigation experience (with the steep learning curve that this entails), Small Claims is the more accessible alternative. Oct 11, 2022 at 13:24
  • FWIW, the conduct described is a breach of contract but is not necessarily or even likely to constitute theft. It would be very unlikely to be prosecuted criminally.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 11, 2022 at 17:55

2 Answers 2


Assuming that your contractor continues to ignore you, then the next steps you could take might include:

  1. Hire a lawyer to draft a letter stating your claims. Seeing your claims on the letterhead of a law firm might push the contractor to pay attention to you. I don't know the cost for this, but calling some lawyers will give you an idea.

  2. Start the process of claiming your money back via the Wisconsin small claims court (I think that this will cost in the order of $100 to $200). You don't need a lawyer to do this. The process is designed so that you can do it yourself. I don't know if the court will award costs as well as the money your are owed.

Unfortunately the initial cost of either of those two steps is roughly about the amount of money that you are owed. The contractor may be relying on that fact to get away with stealing your money - as it costs just as much to get it back. But my gut feeling is to use the small claims court, as that will create a public paper trail leading back to the contractor. You could score a default judgement against them if they don't show up, however recovering that money is a different process (which I have no idea about)

However, if the contractor is doing this with no remorse, then it is likely that they have done it other people as well. So doing the Right Thing™ will benefit your community as well as you.

  • Why suggest to "hire a lawyer to draft a letter" of that type when you yourself acknowledge that it would not be worth the amount at stake? Oct 11, 2022 at 13:15
  • I can't tell the OP what is best for them. And it is a potential option.
    – Peter M
    Oct 11, 2022 at 13:22
  • "it is a potential option." Yes, but it tends to confuse the OP and likely worsen his losses. Oct 11, 2022 at 13:28
  • Note that I did advise to go with small claims, and feel free to add your own answer ;-)
    – Peter M
    Oct 11, 2022 at 13:36

Small Claims Court is the answer.

https://www.wicourts.gov/publications/guides/smallclaimsguide.htm has what you need to know.

If you do win a judgement, your fees will covered. There are then ways to recover your judgement included here: https://www.wicourts.gov/services/public/selfhelp/smallclaims.htm, and include seizure of assets for auction (this is generally effective in getting the judgement paid).

  • Collecting a small claims court judgment is much harder than winning one. But, if you have one, collection attorneys and collection agencies are more likely to be willing to take the case at that point.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 11, 2022 at 19:18
  • @ohwilleke, Wisconsin seems fairly friendly at walking you through how to collect.
    – Tiger Guy
    Oct 11, 2022 at 21:17
  • There's still a lot of paperwork, you have to locate potential assets (which is particularly hard for contractors who often are self-employed and move around a lot), etc. Its pretty much the same as collecting a big judgment but with a smaller payday at the end of the road and a defendant who is more likely to be judgment proof.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 11, 2022 at 23:24

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