Sorry in advance for the long post - but some advice would be greatly appreciated (although we have already taken some preliminary advice from an avocat and will also be going to the relevant Chambre de Metiers) - and also please take this as a warning - we would hate anyone to be in this position.
We wanted to add 2 bathrooms into a renovation project we were doing. We got a couple of quotes from some plumbers - one was someone who was known to a friend of ours and who lived fairly near to us. We received his devis - it was in English, did not outline any of the costs for materials, labour etc as I now believe it should have done - in a nutshell it was quite amateurish and we are now kicking ourselves for agreeing to it but back then we didn't know any different. We signed and returned it to him with the 30% deposit which had been asked for in February this year. By this time we had become friends with him and his wife - or so we thought!!! In March we had a massive unforseen personal situation which left us in severe financial difficulty - because we were friends we kept the plumber and his wife informed - and indeed he was fully aware of all of the personal details - indeed more so than if he was "just" our plumber. He did some work for a day on our downstairs bathroom in March (replacing the shower and sink unit for new ones that we had bought). Since this time, through many conversations, we had kept him informed that we were trying to raise the money but eventually had to tell them that we did not have the money to give him to do the work that he had outlined in his devis. But he knew this already. We explained that we had to use the money we had to buy materials to enable us to finish the childrens bedrooms, the insulation, making good the electrics etc - and we made it clear that we did not have the extra money to pay any external tradesman to do the work - and that we would be doing it with the help of a friend, although we are not experienced at this at all. Two weeks ago, I went round the see them and whilst I was there I enquired about the possibility of us receiving some of the deposit back - obviously less the money for the day's work that he had done for us, and less any expenses he had incurred. Or I also discussed the possibilities of him giving the materials to me that he had already bought in preparation for the work here - or perhaps if he would come and do a little work to the value of the 30% deposit. He and his wife became quite defensive - he told me that he could not give me any of the materials he had bought using the money as they would be of no use to me (including the chauffe eau that he said was in his barn). He said he would let his wife sort out whether it was possible for him to do a little work for us - and as for a refund, they intimated it was virtually impossible as they had submitted this payment into their last year's tax return. His wife was clearly annoyed and started mentioning the validity of contracts etc. I returned home. Ten minutes later, he arrived at our house, at speed around the corner - and proceeded to shout and swear at me when I went out to greet him. My wife and the children were in the house and heard all that was said - he was very angry and initially quite threatening, he said that his wife was fuming and very angry also. My wife came outside - she tried to explain that it was simply the case that we could not afford to use him to do the work - nor could we afford to use anyone else for that matter. She became very upset when she reminded him about the reasons for our financial hardship. After this he left, saying that his wife was going through all the books etc. He returned 2 days later to collect his ladder that he had lent me - again , very angry, at speed which we were upset about because it was a wednesday and the children were playing outside. He said that his wife wanted a letter from us, explaining the reasons why we could not continue with the contract - and that after she received that, she would look into the possibility of us receiving some of the deposit back from them - although certainly not all - which we had made clear that we did not expect it all. We supplied the reasons to them in writing as they requested - and then 2 weeks later they sent us a letter demanding that we let them know when they could come and do the work that they had outlined in their devis.
Firstly, I would like to know where we do stand legally? Obviously after all the upset and stress that we have been through this year - and also our children too, we don't particularly want to have this unpleasantness from them. Are we entitled to any of our money back - or the materials that he claims to have bought? Secondly, the behaviour of them concerns me. Whilst I have no comment to make about the quality of his work, the behaviour from both him and his wife has been unprofessional, threatening and really unpleasant. Before this happened we had heard that other people had encountered similar things - but we had not paid any attention to it (maybe a little naively), thinking that it was possibly just a bit of unpleasant gossip. So much for customer service - let alone friendship - it's funny how that seemed to develop after we parted with some money!!