Residential water damage as a result of flooding is common. Immediately removing the water and drying out the affected area is essential to minimize damage to flooring, furniture, cabinetry, and drywall.
There is no time to obtain competitive bids from several water damage restoration companies. Many people will first call their insurance agent to start the claim process. Others may call a restoration contractor based on a TV or internet ad. Be aware that a recommendation from your agent doesn’t mean your agent has any actual experience with water damage restoration or the restoration company, or that your agent or insurer will stand behind the company’s work. Also, be aware that most flood restoration companies are franchises, and that the franchisor will not stand behind their work. Furthermore, most companies are incorporated, and for practical purposes they are judgment proof under most circumstances. In other words, hiring a flood restoration contractor is hazardous. At least check Yelp, check the company’s license on the State Contractors License Board website,and call the Better Business Bureau.
The State of California has done what it can to help homeowners deal satisfactorily with restoration companies. Water damage contracts are home improvement contracts. Because they are in almost all cases signed at your home, they are subject to a three day right of rescission, otherwise known as cancellation. Because waiting three days to start the work makes no sense, the law provides that the right of cancellation may be waived by the homeowner in an emergency. It also provides detailed requirements for contractual terms, including notices of the homeowner’s right of cancellation and the contractor’s mechanics lien rights, and a form for waiving the right of cancellation, called a “Notice of Cancellation.”
Waiving the right of cancellation is a two-step process. First, the restoration contractor must give notice to the homeowner of his right of cancellation, which can only be accomplished by giving the homeowner all of the required papers in strict compliance with the law. Second, the homeowner must sign the Notice of Cancellation and return it to the contractor. The required form for the Notice is long, and short on plain English. Furthermore, although it can accompany the contract itself, it must be detachable. It must also be provided in duplicate. In sum, the Notice of Cancellation is daunting, and it must be a separate piece of paper.
Restoration companies sometimes use preprinted forms which fail to comply with all legal requirements. In particular, they may fail to provide the notice of the right to cancel and the Notice of Cancellation in accordance with the required language, and they may fail to provide the Notice in duplicate. Instead, they may provide a smaller and simpler notice of the homeowner’s right of cancellation and a smaller and simpler cancellation provision, both within the contract. One suspects this might be an intentional effort to thwart the legislature’s intent, and to obtain the homeowner’s waiver of his right to cancel without giving the homeowner any genuine opportunity to consider the credentials, experience, and competence of the contractor.
Avoiding scrupulous compliance with the law can come back to haunt a flood restoration contractor. Without scrupulous compliance, the homeowner’s apparent cancellation may not be effective. Instead, his right to cancel may continue to exist even after the contract is signed and the work has been performed. If the homeowner is dissatisfied with the work or the amount charged, the homeowner might then invoke his right to cancellation and get this money back, leaving the contractor high and dry.
San Diego Attorney Stanley D. Prowse is a Civil Litigation Attorney specializing in California Construction Law.