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When the Right Person Isn’t Available

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It’s a situation many contractors dread: arriving at a customer’s home for a scheduled job to find that the customer is nowhere to be found. The house is not empty; the family’s teenage son or daughter has been charged with providing access to the job site. However, any contractor who proceeds with work under such circumstances does so at his or her own peril, according to Richard Trimber, a former Chief Operating Officer for two contracting firms in the Washington, D.C. area. Trimber is presently an attorney for business law and advisory practice for General Counsel, P.C. in McLean, Virginia.

“You’re making a huge mistake if you proceed with the work anyway. If you haven’t written something down it’s going to hurt you in the long run,” Trimber said.

Lack of Consent Capacity

In most circumstances, minors cannot enter into binding legal agreements. In plain English, that means that contracts made with minors are largely unenforceable, even if the minor is the homeowner’s child and if the contractor has a valid written agreement with the homeowner. The problem doesn’t necessarily occur when the minor opens the door. Instead, trouble often results if the contractor encounters a situation requiring changes in the scope of work. A minor child lacks the legal authority to give the necessary go-ahead, according to Trimber.

As an example, Trimber cited an incident when police officers were called to the scene of a teen party in an affluent suburb that apparently included no adult supervision. Soon after the arrival of the officers, an attorney arrived, claiming to represent all the teens present. However, officers informed the attorney that he could not claim representation because none of the teens possessed the means to compensate him for his services, Trimber explained.

Possible Adverse Legal Consequences

Among the possible adverse legal consequences of proceeding with work when there is no adult present the possibility that the homeowner could escape financial responsibility for any work done, especially if that work involves changes to the previously agreed upon plans. That’s because many state laws declare that homeowners cannot be financially obliged to pay for work performed without a responsible adult present.

Contractors are not completely without recourse. They may be able to obtain compensation for the value of the time spent traveling to and from the worksite. However, contractors who wish to obtain compensation under such circumstance must establish that fairness demands it, which requires lost time and revenue, according to Trimber.

“You’re sitting in court. You’re not on the job site,” Trimber said.

Insist on Rescheduling

The best way to avoid such an unpleasant scenario is by being proactive. As inconvenient as it might be, the best course of action under these circumstances is to insist on rescheduling. If possible, contact the homeowner by phone while still on the job site. Explain the situation and attempt to reach a mutually agreeable time for sending out another crew, Trimber insisted.

“Ask the customer ‘Do you really want your 17 year old who’s playing PS4 to make these decisions (about changes in the scope of work)?’ The customer may not like it but you could be saving yourself $10,000 in legal fees plus two days in court (by rescheduling),” Trimber said.

When It Might Be OK to Proceed

Under some circumstances, it may be OK to proceed with work even without having the homeowner present. Some states allow contractors to obtain consent from the homeowner by phone. Some states also allow another responsible adult – an adult child, a neighbor or someone similar to provide consent in place of the homeowner. In the latter case, the homeowner should also provide a written power of attorney from the homeowner granting this person the authority to make decisions concerning the job, according to Trimber.

“A good customer knows this (power of attorney) isn’t something written on the back of an envelope. It (proper authorization) protects the customer and it protects you,” Trimber said.

Disclaimer: This article provides a general description about dealing with circumstances where a responsible adult is not present to provide consent for a contractor to proceed with work at a customer’s home. It is not intended to provide legal advice. Please consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction with specific questions concerning your company.

Audrey Henderson

Posted In: Customer Service

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