You were happy to have the roof done a few years ago and you were delighted when the roofer told you he saved you money. Except that now your gyproc is showing signs of water damage, and the last roof lasted 15 years without any leaks in that location. What should you do?
The quick answer is:
- Diagnose the problem
- Identify the probable cause
- Assemble your evidence
- Notify the party responsible in writing
- Give adequate time for the party responsible to respond and correct
- If no acceptable solution is reached, escalate
The long form of the answer follows below. (Disclaimer: I am not giving legal advice in this post. The following discussion is only one of the ways such issues can be resolved, and there may be other mechanisms available to you that are not covered in this post).
Diagnose the problem
The first thing to do is to determine where the water is coming from. The starting point is usually to see what has changed from the time the situation was good. Was there a change in the roof system since the new roof was put on? If not, was the roof replacement the only change? If your attic is accessible in the area of the leak, then a good look in the general area is needed. Following the water trail is an important part of tracing the source of the problem. If you can see the trail, then you can relate the point at which the water enters the roof system to some feature on the outside – say a plumbing vent or a flashing.
If you cannot get access to the attic in the area of the “leak”, it is useful to relate the appearance to the seasons. Does it occur only in early spring? Does it happen when the wind is from a certain direction? Does it happen only when the rain had been persistent and lasted more than a day? These answers to these questions reveal the probable conditions under which the roofing system fails, and these in turn generally point to the roof feature which MAY be responsible. For example, if it happens only in early spring, then this is usually related to some form of ice damming, and can often be traced to some defect in the use or installation of waterproofing membrane and/or flashing. Leakage that shows up only after a long, persistent rain is usually due to a small leak on a surface that is wet but not necessarily in the normal water flow.
If it can be done in a safe manner, going on the roof and seeing the location of the leak source is a good idea, but ONLY IF it can be done safely. If you don’t have the equipment to do it safely, you’ll need to hire someone to do that.
Identify the probable cause
Once you have an idea of the general area of the leak, then there’s the question of who touched the roof last in that area. If it was the roofer, then the roofer would be the person or company you’d need to contact. However, if it was someone else (say, a technician installing a rooftop antennae), then they “may” be the cause. In general the last person to do something on the roof “owns” the problem, unless they can show that their work had nothing to do with the cause of the leak.
Assemble your evidence
For the purpose of this post, let’s assume that the situation is as follows: The leak shows up only in spring, the roofing company were the last people on the roof, and you’ve been able to determine that it is a leak and not another cause (like condensation). You now need to take photographs of the evidence (the wet gyproc), and to write down the chronology of what you have seen (when did the problem become apparent, what did you see, etc.). Since the roofing company was the last organization to touch that part of the roof, they “own” the problem.
Notify the person or company responsible
Now it’s time to look up the paperwork that came with the last re-roof, which is the contract with the roofing company, and the warranties they issued at the completion of the work. There should be at least two warranties: a Labour warranty from the contracting company covering the workmanship, and a Material warranty from the roof covering manufacturer covering the material performance. Review the documents to ensure that the probable cause is not covered by one of the exclusions. Among the more common exclusions, there will be clauses on unauthorized roof alterations, acts of God, wilful damage, extreme weather events and so on. Assuming that none of the exclusions are unreasonable, or do not apply, AND the warranty is still in force (labour warranties can range from 5 years to 20 years or more), you can make a claim to the company you believe responsible.
Such a notification should be in writing and should address or reference the following:
- Person and/or company that did the roofing work,
- Contract and warranty that covers the work,
- Description of the problem you found, including the timing, location, frequency, etc.
- Photographic evidence that supports your claim,
- Your assessment of the probable cause and reason(s) why the company is (in your opinion) responsible,
- Your requested corrective action (ie, what do you want them to do)
- A timeframe for a formal response (usually a response within 10 business days is appropriate, unless the issue is of an emergency nature),
- A timeframe for corrective action (ie, a reasonable amount of time to get the issue resolved, say 30 or 60 days).
- Your contact information so that the company can respond to you.
Aside: In Quebec, the law requires all contractors to be licensed by the Regie du Batiment du Quebec (RBQ), and if the contract was signed at the house, have permits from the Office de Protection du Consommateur (OPC). Part of the licensing/permitting requirement is the deposition of a performance bond with both regulatory bodies by the contractors. The intent is that if the contractor is unable to remedy the situation, the consumer may petition one (or both) of the regulatory bodies to carry out the necessary repairs, paid by the seizure of the performance bond(s) of the contractor. Therefore IF the situation is not resolved to your satisfaction after contact with the company responsible, contacting the regulatory bodies is an escalation step (that hopefully never has to be exercised). For that purpose you will need to confirm that the contractor’s RBQ number and the OPC number are valid and in force.
The notification should be sent by registered mail, and followed up with a phone call.
The exception to the above is when you have a good and ongoing relationship with the company that did your roof, and they respond quickly to a telephone (or text or email) inquiry. These companies will deal with the issue (whether it is “their” fault or not), and come to an acceptable solution with your participation.
Give adequate time for the company to respond and correct
Under normal circumstances, the company will respond to their customer rather quickly, and will usually arrange to carry out an inspection in a reasonable timeframe, subject to things like the weather. If they fail to respond, or deny any responsibility, then you need to go to the escalation step (later in the post).
All companies will require the opportunity to examine the situation, and determine their own assessment of the causes and their possible responsibility. They may require access to your premises and to your attic. They will probably want to examine the roof surface as well. The homeowner should be present during this inspection, and document with photographs what was inspected.
After the inspection and evaluation is completed, the company has a range of options to consider: They can include (note that the list is not exhaustive):
- Agreeing with your evaluation, and agreeing that the work is to be done free-of-charge to you under one of the warranty provisions, or
- Agreeing with your evaluation but denying that the warranty applies, or
- Disagreeing with your evaluation, and determining that the cause has nothing to do with their work or warranty.
Scenario 1 – company agrees to carry out repairs under the warranty
This is the ideal scenario, where the diagnosis of the problem was correct, the company accepts their responsibility, and the work is then scheduled to be completed in a reasonable amount of time. You should ask the company to respond in writing to you, detailing the underlying cause(s) of the problem, and the corrective action they are/will be taking. Furthermore, a photographic record of the repair process and the result will be very useful documentation in the event that further followup is needed.
Since most warranties exclude coverage for consequential damage, the repair of such things as the gyproc and other interior features are usually covered under the homeowner insurance policy.
Assuming that the repair work is satisfactorily completed, there is no need for further followup or escalation.
Scenario 2 – company agrees with the cause of the leak, but denies the warranty applies.
In this scenario, the company says that they are not responsible for the repairs under the warranty. This can be due to one or more of the legitimate exclusions of the warranty being invoked, or they can say they followed the accepted roofing practices and the failure was not due to any fault of design or installation. In either situation, they should document the reason(s) why they believe the warranty does not apply in writing, and give evidence for their stand.
Legitimate (in my opinion) exclusions can include:
- The warranty period has expired,
- There was alteration to the roof system not approved or sanctioned by the company,
- There was a failure of the material used, which then becomes a claim against the manufacturer’s warranty,
- There was a fault of another part of the building envelope which showed up in the roofing system,
- There was an “act of God” that could not be protected against,
- There were aspects of the roofing system that had nothing to do with the roofer’s work (such as the changing of the insulation and/or ventilation due to interior renovations), which created new conditions for the roof.
- There were specific conditions that the company pointed out before or during installation which were waived by the homeowner. For example, it may have been noted that the insulation is completely inadequate, and this was not rectified by the homeowner despite the notice, with the consequence that an ice dam formed and contributed to a leak.
Less legitimate reasons (again, in my opinion) include:
- lack of warranty coverage for “normal” or at least not extreme weather conditions,
- work was done by a subcontractor – “it’s his problem, not ours”,
- work was done according to the minimum standards (ie, the building code but not adequate for the specific situation),
- pre-existing defect in the roof system now surfaced and caused the problem,
- the original contract was sufficiently vaguely-written that it’s not possible to determine exactly what work was done or how it was done,
- some other legitimate sounding excuse…
If the reasons for exclusion ARE legitimate, then the homeowner will need to work out the corrective action with the company and will have to pay to carry out these corrective actions.
If the reasons for exclusion are NOT legitimate, then there are various ways to hold the company to account, but they all take time and a lot of effort. Most warranties have provision for disputes to be settled by arbitration, where an independent and impartial arbitrator is brought in to settle the dispute. However, this process takes time and is quasi-judicial. If the arbitration mechanism is not used, then bringing in an independent third party (consultant) can help clarify the issues, at least from a technical point of view, and this can be used to persuade the roofing company to change their position.
If the company refuses to document the reasons for their refusal to honour the warranty, or does not respond, or refuses to carry out repairs identified by the third party arbitrator or consultant, then it is time for an escalation to the regulatory bodies (described later in the post).
Scenario 3 – company disagrees with your diagnosis, and disclaims any responsibility
As in scenario 2, there can be legitimate reasons and less legitimate reasons. Legitimate reasons include:
- the problem originates is another part of the building that however shows up in the roof system. This often occurs if the siding, windows, or other structures have a fault which allows the water into the housing envelope and which then shows up in a ceiling or wall next to the ceiling.
- there is a change in the use of the building which changes the way the roof system behaves. An example of this would be the installation of ventilated, uninsulated pot lights into a ceiling, protruding into the cold spaces, which now allow both heat and moisture into the roof system.
- the actual fault contributing to the leakage is not due to the workmanship of the company. An example of this is the damage that can be caused by animals making holes in the roof system.
- the apparent leak actually comes from another part of the roof where a pre-existing defect eventually caused the failure. An example of this would be to have a leak in an older section of roof that was not re-roofed, with the failure there showing up in the new section.
Less legitimate reasons include:
- “we didn’t install the waterproofing membrane because you didn’t want to pay for it”. A licensed contractor is presumed to be professional enough to know when an installation method is clearly inadequate, and will not (or should not) agree to do work that has a high probability of failure.
- “it’s not a leak, it’s condensation”. There are legitimate cases when condensation IS the culprit, but usually it’s an excuse to not do anything.
- “the problem is caulking, and caulking is not covered by the warranty”. Um, no. Accepted trade practice has caulking as one of the tools that assists the roofer is putting together a water-resistant assembly, and is one of the workmanship-related factors that is under the control of the contractor.
- “we didn’t do the roof – it was XYZ company”. We’ve seen this claim more than once, despite the physical evidence of a written contract identifying the correct company.
- “The company with which you had dealings is no longer in business. We’re a different company, just using their business name”. This is unfortunately, a rather common way of companies to avoid servicing the liabilities of their warranties.
As in Scenario 2, legitimate reasons usually mean that the company is NOT legally liable, and to resolve the issue the homeowner will have to pay to get the problem corrected. The less legitimate reasons will require escalation to the regulatory bodies and perhaps even the courts.
If no acceptable solution is reached, escalate
If you are not able to get the company to respond or you disagree with their response and you cannot resolve the situation with them in a reasonable amount of time, you can elect to escalate the problem to the attention of the regulatory bodies. As noted in an earlier aside, contractors in Quebec have to be licensed by the RBQ, and if selling direct to homeowners, are also required to have sales permits from the OPC. Both organizations can revoke their license/permit if the contractor is not responding to legitimate problems.
Of course, these options are available only if the contract was originally written up with a licensed contractor, and the rules governing such contracts were followed (ie, sales taxes were paid, all the work done was declared, etc.). Assuming that the contract law was followed by both the contractor and the homeowner, then there are legal recourses available to the homeowner if the work was not done in a satisfactory manner, or the warranties were not respected. These recourses include:
- Written complaint to the OPC (Office de Protection du Consommateur), detailing the issue. Here, the supporting documentation should include the original contract, the warranties, the written notification you sent to the company, and the written response back (if there was one) from the company denying the warranty responsibility. There is a section on the OPC website that covers this process: (OPC Consumer info).
- Written complaint to the RBQ (Regie du bâtiment du Quebec), with the same details as the above. The online section of the RBQ for citizens is found here: RBQ Info for Citizens, and the section for complaints is found here: RBQ Complaint
- Civil court. This option is available IF you are unable to get a satisfactory resolution after pursuing the first two options. Note that the OPC has some useful information if this option needs to be pursued.
These options are generally NOT available if the company is no longer in business (whether through bankruptcy, having their license revoked, sold to another company, or dissolved). If this is your situation, then consultation with the OPC and a lawyer may give you options to pursue. As this blog does NOT dispense legal advice, I will leave these options for you to pursue with the relevant legal entities.
Other remarks and summary
Usually, if a contractor gets notification in writing, by registered mail, and with their RBQ license and OPC permit numbers quoted, they know you are serious and are less likely to blow you off.
This level of escalation is not necessary if you do have a good relationship with the contractor responsible, and if they DO respond quickly to your inquiries. Contractors who rely on their reputation and word-of-mouth advertising will be very sensitive to any customer concerns. On the other hand, contractors who are focused on sales and glossy brochures and fast and cheap installation will generally care less about how their customers perceive them.
If you end up hiring another company to do repairs on your roof, even in a small and confined area, you may risk having the original company cancel their warranty under the clause that they are not responsible for unauthorized changes to their roofing system. You therefore need to protect yourself by documenting any such repair in sufficient detail that any third party could conclude that the repairs had no effect on the remaining roof system, and by giving notice to the company prior to doing any such work.
If you followed the recommendations that I wrote in this article How to Choose a Contractor in Quebec and this one How to get a Good Quote, chances are pretty good that you won’t have these kinds of issues.
Contractors who DO have issues and complaints often have some (or many) of the following characteristics:
- High-pressure sales (amazing deal if you sign TODAY)
- Contracts lacking sufficient detail
- Sales organization uses unknown (or undisclosed) subcontractors to install
- Little or no inspection and/or evaluation before signing the contract
- Little or no discussion of the specific issues particular to the house
- Few examples of existing work other than a list of prior installs
- Work is done “under the table”
- Offer of low price because “they’re already in the neighbourhood”
- A very low price because they “saved you some money by reusing components”
Quality, reliable work takes time, proper preparation, and is never cheap. Taking the performance over the life of the installation, however, quality work is almost always the least expensive overall, even if you pay more for it up front. Get it done right the first time.