security polo shirts Damage from leaks may not be the roofer’s responsibility
That’s what Phil Haberman expected in August 2013 when he paid $1,000 to a South Philly roofer to repair two sections of roofing on his four story Center City townhouse. He has lived since with a malady many people will recognize: roof anxiety.
Haberman suffered more leaks in early 2014 and again this April, despite a return visit by the roofer to remedy a problem he blamed on ice damming. As rain poured last Sunday, Haberman again rolled up towels to absorb drips that this time, thankfully, never fell.
The 62 year old retiree got an $1,800 estimate to repaint damaged walls and ceilings. Then he got the roofer’s answer when he tried to hold the company responsible, under a contract that says one section of the work was covered by a 15 year new roof warranty and the other covered for two years.
The roofer directed him to a fine print box on his contract, which says the company isn’t responsible for “any interior or exterior damage caused by leaks before, during or after work is performed.”
Haberman asks: “Is this legal?” He filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which ended in an impasse. Now he’s wondering whether he should take the roofer to small claims court, armed in part by a proposal from a new firm, which we’ll call Roofer B, for a more extensive and expensive fix.
This story could get lost in he saids and she saids, so I’ll spare you that detour. Roofer A calls Haberman’s complaint a rarity, citing “hundreds and hundreds” of positive customer ratings on Angie’s List, where its A plus score lured Haberman. Roofer B doesn’t want its name in the paper, either.
The bigger questions: Can a roofer be held responsible for damage if a roof fails in its essential function? And how do you choose among roofers, especially when you realize, as Haberman does, that you don’t even speak their language?
Who’s responsible for leaks? This might seem like a simple question. It’s anything but, says Amelia Boss, a Drexel University law professor who specializes in commercial law and contracts.
Boss says one problem is that roofing work involves both the sale of materials, which would be covered by laws such as the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act or the Uniform Commercial Code, and services, covered chiefly by common law. The combination of both in one contract leaves lots of wiggle room for disclaimers such as those in both roofers’ contracts.
Under common law, the primary limit on disclaimers for consequential damages is when they’re unconscionable obviously unfair and unjust, Boss says. For instance, a contractor couldn’t sidestep responsibility for a negligent installation that caused personal injury. “But there’s no similar bright line rule for property damage,” she says.
claims court might award damages, but don’t count on it without clear evidence of negligence especially hard to show with a partial roof replacement. A better approach: Avoid the situation in the first place by doing a better job of choosing a roofer and vetting a work plan.
How to shop for roofing. There’s no single, perfect strategy, but Consumers’ Checkbook which also rates area roofers and, unlike Angie’s List, doesn’t rely on advertising has some great tips, starting with this: Get multiple, detailed bids before you sign anything.
Checkbook editor Kevin Brasler says “mystery shoppers” typically find vast differences in bids from different roofers for the same work. Some come in at more than triple the price of others.
Beyond cost, a key benefit of getting multiple bids is that roofers essentially serve as competing consultants to help you find the best prescription for your needs. Once you’ve chosen that, you can ask each bidder to price the same specs.