Here at TrustDALE, we always try to work with companies to make things right. We want to bring together businesses and consumers to find a resolution that satisfies everyone. But every once in a while, we run across a company that just won’t budge. And that’s when we have to get a little more adversarial on behalf of consumers because we believe that every business should make it right—even businesses that won’t do it on their own.
A Good Man and a Grieving Widow
This story began when we were contacted by Marcy. Marcy’s late husband was a good man, and even when he was very ill, he continued to try to get things done around the house. One of the last things he took care of was the roof. He knew that his home was due for a new roof, so he called out a roofer to get an estimate. Before any work could be done, Marcy’s husband passed away—just five days after the estimate. Marcy was, of course, heartbroken.
While she was still grieving the passing of her husband, Marcy got a call from the roofer. He explained to Marcy that she had a choice. She had to hire him to replace her roof or pay him $4,000 as a cancelation fee. Marcy was stunned. This roofer wanted $4,000 just to go away and do absolutely nothing.
The roofer was insistent. He reminded Marcy that her late husband had signed a contract. Her husband thought it was simply an estimate, but the roofer claimed that the contract contained a clause specifying that he was owed a portion of the estimate if the job was canceled.
TrustDALE Takes a Closer Look
When Marcy came to us with her problem, we were appalled by this roofer’s behavior. He was trying to shake down a grieving widow! So we had one of our producers give him a call to learn more about the situation. As usual, our goal was not to harm him or his business. We just wanted to bring everyone to the table to find a satisfactory resolution.
First, our producer Joe tried to talk to the roofer human to human. He explained that we were talking about a grieving widow who was not the one who signed the contract. Was there any way that he could back off and leave Marcy alone? But instead of being kind, the roofer doubled down on his request for $4,000.
The roofer explained that he doesn’t do anything for free, Marcy’s husband had signed a contract, and if Marcy didn’t pay, he would take legal action to get the $4,000 from her husband’s estate. This struck us as very unusual. The roofer had done nothing more than walk around Marcy’s house and give an estimate. At most, he spent an hour of his time. He had not hired any workers, purchased any materials, or made any other investment in the project.
In this industry, free estimates are the norm. We always recommend that homeowners get at least three estimates on a roofing job. The three-estimate is true for many other services, as well. Roofers know that not every estimate ends in a job, and this roofer should have known that, too. But he claimed to have a contract stating otherwise.
A Contract Is Not Always a Contract
We were more than a little surprised that this roofer had obtained a signed contract stating that after nothing more than an estimate, he was entitled to a $4,000 cancelation fee. So we dug a little deeper. It turns out that the contract did not specify that Marcy owed $4,000 as a cancelation fee. There were no dollar amounts anywhere in the contract. It also did not specify anything about the roof that the roofer was planning to build. There was nothing about the material, color, style, or any other detail of the roof. This all sounded pretty fishy to us, so we reached out to lawyer Marc Hershovitz for his analysis.
Marc explained that a basic tenet of contract law is that a contract represents a meeting of the minds. There needs to be an agreement about what the contract means. In this case, the contract was so vague, including the lack of any dollar amounts, that it was entirely unenforceable. The $4,000 the roofer was requesting was a number pulled out of thin air. And if he tried to take legal action, he would have absolutely no standing.
We shared that information with Marcy. When Marcy told the roofer that he had no standing, he quietly withdrew his effort to get the money from Marcy. With the threat of legal action gone, Marcy didn’t want to further antagonize this roofer. At her request, we aren’t going to mention his company by name. But if he comes back with any further legal threats, we may have to make his name public.