The importance of knowing what a contractor’s warranty declares
It happens when you least expect it. Suddenly, there’s no hot water, or boards under the carpet seem to have come unhinged, or the washing machine just won’t wash… who is responsible when damage emerges a week after installation… or, eighteen months later… or three years?!
Hiring a contractor can be a painless experience, even though something always seems to go wrong. Whether you’re doing a remodel or installing a large appliance, you can never wait for that rewarding sigh of relief that comes only when the job is complete. Peace of mind! Then, down the line, you are rousted out of contentment because something has unexpectedly, yup, gone wrong. You’re not alone in the anxiety of assuming you’re screwed, and you scramble to see if you have that piece of paper called a ‘warranty’.
If you don’t, all is not lost. In its absence, an ‘implied warranty’ is generally understood and accepted. This basically provides protection without a written warranty under the most obvious of circumstances. A guy can’t just replace your chimney and leave the living room tore up. Or worse, “complete” a job that is grossly defective. Habitability is assured. Potentially, a judge would understand that you have paid for a specific service, and if it clearly had not been rendered satisfactorily, the contractor will be ordered to make it right. That’s called the Law of Common Sense (no, not officially). Within the realm of implied rights is the ‘right to repair’ law. This gives the contractor the opportunity to make things right before a lawsuit is filed. You can’t just sue without letting your grievances be known, they must be given a chance to placate you. However, you are subject to a statute of limitation, the time of which is determined by the state you live in.
But when you are dealing with various details and formalities and the question of exactly what was expected is debatable, you need it all spelled out – on paper. A warranties purpose is to protect both parties entered into an agreement. A homeowner expects protection from shoddy work and a builder wants to be immune from being indefinitely tied to a project at his own expense. The laws in place in regards to warranties tend to be somewhat ambiguous or open to interpretation. If no warranty is forthcoming from a certain contractor, take a pass. Someone will be happy to incorporate some sort of guarantee with their work. Once you are happy with what it stipulates, allow them to proceed. But be sure you have a mutually clear understanding of what the agreement expects of you both. Neither of you want to feel you’ve been short-changed down the line. And accept that you will be expected to honor your end if necessary.
Surprisingly, including a written warranty with a contract is not required by law. There are no set standards that a warranty must meet. In fact, it is negotiable. Often, a contractor will just hand you a piece of paper and say “Here’s your warranty”. It’s up to you, as the consumer, to investigate what it stipulates. And you want to do this before you sign a contract. When a contractor is vying for your business, you yield the most power. It is imperative to understand what the warranty stipulates. If some of the language is hard to decipher, ask a friend to help, or ask questions of the contractor directly and get any additional info or guarantees in writing. They want you to hire them, so if you feel there are reasonable changes to be made, get it approved before you officially agree to their service.
A one-year warranty seems to be the current standard. It may forgo any rights set forth by an implied warranty, and stipulate as such. The concern here is that an implied warranty may cover you past a year depending on the circumstances. Also, the time to discover a defect and take legal action is also limited to the warranties duration. No homeowner is obligated to accept a one-year warranty. Perhaps you want to negotiate for a longer-term – that is perfectly acceptable. You might also ask your contractor if they offer an extended warranty. See what it outlines, maybe it will fit your needs more sufficiently. If not, perhaps determine what changes you might suggest. Insuring the project is another measure of protection you could consider.
Ideally, a warranty will clarify the details. For example, it will identify the code by which certain materials will be evaluated and the subsequent measures that need to be taken when a dispute ensues. Even so, one must be aware that states have their own legislations, and times vary per how long certain materials and issues are covered. Generally the implied warranty has no fixed time and, in the outcome of a lawsuit, it is up to a judge to weigh the variables of justice.
Naturally, as with any dispute, it is ideal for both parties to try to seek an amicable solution. Find common ground. Be as reasonable as possible. But the key for a less-troublesome, harmonious experience is in the details of the contract. Get it right from the start and you’re most likely to experience a positive outcome, even if it wasn’t an entirely trouble or stress-free ordeal.