January 11, 2017
By Bob Incollingo
Originally published in Anointed News Journal, Vol 22, Issue 26, p.11 December 11-17, 2016
If you’re in the market for home improvement, you’ll want to understand your rights with respect to guarantees and warranties and home improvement warranties. There isn’t much difference between the two words; guarantee and warranty are interchangeable for the most part. Both words refer to a specific promise in a contract, where if a thing or service doesn’t meet a particular standard, and if the seller is so notified within the specific period, the seller will repair or replace the warranted item according to the terms of the guarantee. If you make a timely claim on a product manufacturer or contractor, they have to respond and honor their warranty within a reasonable time afterwards, even if the warranty term itself has expired.
New Jersey Consumer Law and Home Improvement Warranties
New Jersey consumer law requires that every seller of home improvement provide the buyer with a written copy of all guarantees and warranties made with respect to labor, services, products or materials furnished. Of course, no particular warranty at all must be given, in which case the law implies a few unstated warranties into the agreement. The work has to be performed in a workmanlike manner, the way such work is customarily done by other contractors in the community. The products supplied have to be “merchantable,” that is, they have to be unobjectionable and fit for the ordinary purpose for which such goods are used. In addition, if you’ve told your contractor what you need a particular product to do, and relied on her to sell you something that fits your needs, a warranty will arise that the product is fit for that particular purpose. These warranties are implied, and a consumer can sue for breach of an implied warranty in much the same way as for breach of any expressly written contract obligation.
Home Improvement Warranties
In the case of home improvement, guarantees and warranties – if given – have to be specific, clear and definite. They have to state any exclusions or limitations as to their scope or duration. Copies of all guarantees and warranties must be furnished to the buyer at the time the contractor-seller presents his bid as well as when the contract is signed, except that separate manufacturers’ product warranties may be furnished at the time such products or materials are installed.
For example, if you and your roofer discuss a contract for a new roof on your house, you may reasonably expect to receive the roofer’s own warranty for workmanship – if any – when you are still negotiating, and again when you sign the contract. While your roofer will have to provide you with a copy of any separate manufacturer’s warranty for the particular brand and type of roof shingle to be installed, he can wait to give that to you until he shingles the roof. That would be a bad idea for you. Even long term shingle warranties are generally limited to the replacement of defective products after a short initial period when reinstallation labor might be covered by the manufacturer. If your roofer goes out of business, his workmanship warranty will be worthless. On the other hand, some manufacturers guarantee workmanship if the roof was originally installed by a factory certified roofer. Before you sign your roofing contract, you’ll want to read the shingles product warranty before you buy.
Home Improvement Warranties: Transferable?
Save all warranties and dated proofs of purchase! Some home improvement warranties are transferable to the buyer of your house, and can be an attractive selling point. Dated receipts can determine the success or failure of a warranty claim. A claim received is first reviewed to see when the purchase was made, not only to determine if the claim is timely, but because warranties change from time to time for the same products. Since a warranty is a kind of contract, the specific terms applicable at the time of sale will need to be proved in case of breach.
In the case of a home improvement contract for a price of more than $500, it is a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act for a seller of home improvement to fail to furnish the buyer a written copy of all guarantees or warranties made with respect to the labor, services, products and materials supplied. The related regulations apply not only to home improvement contractors such as roofers and remodelers, but also to electricians, plumbers, mechanical contractors, and other licensed tradesmen working on the house you live in.
Resist signing any home improvement contract that denies you your legal right to a clear and specific warranty. When you see a contract that states, for example, “All work is guaranteed to be as specified,” you should ask yourself what else might be wrong with the deal, and back away. Most of all, take responsibility. If you’re not sure how to interpret a warranty, then before you sign the contract, call a lawyer who practices construction law or consumer law. You may be able to negotiate a better deal. In the same way, when your timely warranty claim has been ignored, you can get help to enforce your legal rights in court.
Robert Incollingo is a past co-chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association Construction Law Section (2009-2011) and has more than 30 years’ experience litigating thousands of construction, business and real estate disputes. RJI@RJILAW.com