By Jon Orlando
Whether youre the manager of a new facility or one thats recently been expanded or remodeled, youll likely have some construction-warranty issues. Once youve discovered a problem, you may wonder:
- Is this covered under the warranty?
- Who do I call?
- How long do they have to respond?
- Who pays for the damage to the tenants goods?
These are all good questions. Lets take a closer look at whats involved in warranty claims, your role in handling them, and how you can head off problems.
The most important part of the warranty process is documentation. Once your project is complete, the contractor should issue a one-year warranty that covers the project in general, and subcontractor/vendor warranties covering the individual trades. Keep in mind that warranties for the latter can be longer than one year, especially for things such as air-conditioning systems and roofs, so make sure you review these warranties carefully.
Theres no need to be bashful about requesting the warranties, either. Most contractors expect to provide these documents before receiving final payment. If you didnt receive a written document specifically warranting the work after your project was completed, dont worry. Most courts uphold the one-year warranty as implicit to the industry, so youre still legally covered.
Although most warranty language is pretty standard in the construction industry, review your documents and make sure everything looks in order. The most important information on the documentation is the dates. Check the warranty to and from dates and make sure theyre accurate. The start date of the warranty should be at the time of completion and can be related to a Certificate of Occupancy or Notice of Acceptance issued by the building department.
Once youre satisfied with the dates, do yourself a favor and mark the end date on a calendar at least a month before the warranty period expires. At that time you can review the entire project for any outstanding issues and provide notice to the contractor for any necessary repairs.
Just as with a new car, certain items are covered under a contractors warranty and other items are considered wear and tear. In addition, failure to provide maintenance can void or reduce your ability to recover damages under the warranty.
Once a new self-storage facility, remodel or expansion is complete, the contractor will provide a full one-year warranty for the project. This covers basically everything installed on your project, however, it doesnt cover damage to the facility caused by tenants. In addition, make sure your facility is maintained. Roof leaks caused by debris on roofs or clogged gutters dont constitute a warranty claim, nor does improperly functioning air conditioning due to unchanged filters.
Always notify the prime contractor when theres a warranty issue with the facility. The contractor understands the complexity of the project and, based on the warranty claim, can notify the proper subcontractors and vendors as necessary. In addition, the contractor has the legal leverage to force the subcontractor to respond if necessary. Youll find most contractors will reply to your claim promptly, as they value their reputation and want to continue the relationship in the hope of getting more work.
Some contractors will request that you contact the subcontractor or vendor directly to handle the warranty claim, but dont do this. If you do, you may find yourself in arguments and issues that happened during the project and are not necessarily of your concern. Your contract agreement for the project was with the prime contractor, and it is the company legally responsible for resolving the warranty claim in the first year.
Depending on the urgency of the claim, you may choose to notify the contractor in several ways. The most efficient process is to place a phone call regarding the issue and follow up with an e-mail. The phone call ensures quick notification, but the e-mail is important, as it establishes the date and provides a written description of the problem.
Although its not your responsibility to dissect the warranty issue, the more information you give the contractor the better. Make sure you provide a location (Building A, B, C, etc.) and a unit number. Pictures are always helpful and can assist the contractor in communicating with the subcontractors and vendors, accelerating the response time to your claim.
Scheduling Work and Follow-Up
How long does the contractor have to respond? Response time generally relates to the nature of the claim. Its important to be reasonable with your expectations based on the urgency of your problem. Issues like leaks and broken air conditioning can cause damage to customer goods and should be addressed quickly. On the other hand, a small area of pealing paint or a broken floor tile doesnt warrant a next-day response.
However, its reasonable to expect the contractor to respond to your request within one week. This timeframe gives the contractor time to analyze the claim and decide which of the subcontractors is responsible for the warranty work. If you dont get response or acknowledgement of your claim, follow up. Make sure the follow-up is documented in case you have to do the work yourself and are forced to take legal action.
Paying for Damage
Who pays for damage to tenants goods? This is perhaps the most complicated question. The fact is most contractors will be willing to pay for damaged goods, but many self-storage lease agreements explicitly state the facility isnt responsible for damage. It may be difficult to legally force the contractor to pay if the operator isnt obligated to do so.
In addition, its important you mitigate any continuing damages. For example, if theres a leak in a unit that has slightly damaged a piece of furniture, youre under some obligation to relocate the tenants goods so the damage doesnt continue. If a legal situation arises, the courts will probably award you the cost for relocation of the goods, but may not award further damage to items that could have been avoided.
The best thing to do is be upfront with the contractor for any expenses beyond the repair. If the contractor refuses to pay, you may be in a legal quandary and will need to seek counsel to review the terms and conditions of the contract and insurance requirements for the project.
Warranty claims can be a difficult and aggravating process. Just remember to provide as much information as possible on your initial claim, be realistic about the contractors timeframe to respond, and follow up accordingly.
Jon F. Orlando is the vice president of construction for Oden Hardy Construction Inc. in Bradenton, Fla. The design-build firm specializes in the self-storage industry throughout the Southeast. For more information call 941.792.2233; e-mail [email protected] ; visit www.odenhardy.com .