When a client calls about a problem during or after a job, you have a responsibility to get it fixed as soon as possible. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good for your reputation.

But what do you do when a client calls about a problem they created? It’s not unusual for a client to create a problem by tinkering after a job has been completed. If their actions break something you worked on, some folks find it convenient to blame you or your specialty contractor so they can get it fixed for free.

How often does an owner decide to save a few dollars on a kitchen remodel by installing the dishwasher or refrigerator themselves? Let’s say the new floor is either a finished hardwood or tile of some sort. You finished the job. They get busy doing the installs and don’t pull the wood shield off the bottom of the refrigerator before sliding it into place. These shields or crates almost always have nails or bolts sticking out. Boom, they made a big scratch or dent in their new floor.

Or, while installing the dishwasher, they leave the leveling screws all the way out and when they slide the unit into place, the top of the unit hits the tile edge. They don’t look to see what the problem is, they just give it a hard push and crack the tile countertop.

There are a certain number of people who won’t accept that they screwed things up. They’d rather round up the usual suspects. Guess who’ll be at the top of their list?

How do you protect yourself? In every contract, include language that protects you, your company and your specialty contractors for problems you didn’t create.

Owner understands and agrees that if Owner contacts [CONTRACTOR] with a complaint about some function of this job, either during the job or during the guarantee period, and the problem outlined by the Owner is not [CONTRACTOR]’s fault or doing, Owner will reimburse [CONTRACTOR] at the rate of [SPECIFY RATE PER HOUR] per man hour expended finding and/or resolving the problem, travel time for round trip from [CONTRACTOR]’s office to the job site plus mileage at [SPECIFY RATE] per mile and any material, sub or specialty contractor or other costs at [CONTRACTOR]’s cost plus [?]%.

Is this overkill? Maybe. But in my opinion, in today’s litigious climate, it’s necessary.

But you’ll need more than the contract. A few weeks ago we talked about taking a series of good before, during and after photos of every job. Those are great for advertising, but they can also be used to prove what the job looked like on the day you finished up and walked out the door. If you have a set of photos with a time and date stamp, you can use those photos to prove that there were no scratches on the floor in front of the refrigerator, that the tile on the countertop was in perfect condition and that you aren’t responsible for the repairs needed because the damage was incurred after you left.

When they call you to tell you about the damage, remind them what the contract says, and that they will be responsible for your time if the damage occurred after the job was finished. Inform them that you’ll bring a copy of the photos you took after the job was completed to confirm if the damage happened on your watch. Do this nicely, of course. Give them the opportunity to back down when they remember the contract or realize that you have photos.

While we’re on the subject, you should also have a clause in your contract that says you can take photos of the job for future use at your discretion. This gives you permission to use the photos for advertising, but they can also be used for CYA (Cover Your Assets). And because these types of problems can also occur during a job, it’s valuable to take photos during the course of a project, not just at the beginning and the end.

Thinking ahead and taking preventative measures can make the difference between a profitable job and a job that leaves you scrambling to pay your overhead because of the losses. A detailed contract can be worth its weight in gold.  (This language, and more, is included in our Fast Track Proposal Writer software.)

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be, or may be construed as, legal advice. I am not an attorney. You must consult an attorney before using any suggested language or any other information contained in this article to determine if it conforms to your state laws or your particular situation.

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