Hiring Out Home Repairs: Concerns to Keep in Mind
There is never a good time for appliances to break or major damage to happen to your home. If a DIY repair is against your rental contract (or your DIY ability), you might be searching for the best, cheapest, or fastest repair person or contractor to come over and help you.
When you invite a professional to your property they are legally considered an “invitee." You must take “reasonable care" to protect them from known hazards and regularly inspect your home for unknown dangers. The laws in your state may provide more specific guidelines.
Note: If you are a landlord or tenant you must follow your state laws for repairs.
While some of these interactions can simply be awkward, and everyone has a few repair horror stories, you and the repair person both have some rights.
What Can a Repair Person Ask Me?
It is common for a repair person to ask the renter or homeowner for small things such as:
- To turn off your water or electricity (if you are not 100% sure about the right switches to do this, ask them to help you!)
- To provide towels, paper towels, or other cleaning supplies for leaks, dust, or grime
- To provide blankets or cardboard for moving appliances like a fridge (moving anything heavy up or downstairs should involve their own equipment like a ramp, cart, or dollies)
- To lock your pet in another room for safety or to prevent dog bites (whether your dog is friendly or not, a guest in your home has the right to feel uncomfortable around an unknown animal)
- To keep children away from the work area
In most instances, the hired person should have their own flashlight and tools. Lending them your tools may be at your own discretion. While they are likely insured against injuries while on the job, the repair person could get hurt with a faulty tool or break something you own.
You can be on the hook for premises liability lawsuits if you aren't careful.
Most companies tell employees not to ask to use your bathroom or for water. If you are comfortable with it, the repair person will likely appreciate the offer as they often have back-to-back appointments in a time crunch or are working outside in hot conditions.
Weird Personal Questions During the Appointment
Some questions that might seem strange or personal can be useful for diagnosing the repair issue:
- How many people live here?
- How many people use this appliance?
- How many times a day are you using this?
- How often do you shower? (This can be relevant if you are replacing your water heater tank and may need a different size)
- Will you be out of town? (This question is common during extensive repairs or remodeling projects.)
It can feel strange to answer some of these questions, especially if you live alone and have safety concerns. You can always decline to answer, though it may affect the repair, diagnosis, or scheduling.
A repair person can't ask you for any protected information or questions that violate discrimination law. In the same vein, you cannot ask them for protected information or discriminate against the staff member sent to your house.
Crimes During Repairs
Though it is rare, unfortunately, there are cases of repair person-related crimes or violence, or homeowner crimes or violence against repair people.
If something feels wrong or dangerous during an appointment at your house, you should talk to the police. If someone is accusing you of a crime against a repair staff member, you should talk to an attorney right away.
Keep in mind that their company has a record of who is at your house. If something bad happens they can track down who did it very quickly. Before the appointment you can also tell someone you know and trust about:
- The company you hired and the repair person's name
- The time they will be at your house or apartment
- When they arrive and leave
- Contact information for the company or repair person
Never let anyone in your house if you do not have an appointment scheduled.
Repair staff should have a branded vehicle and a uniform with the company name. Even if you feel awkward asking, you have the right to ask for ID cards or to see information about the company they work for.
Note: Some work is done by the city (such as changing out old electricity meters for new ones) on a rolling schedule and the staff will usually give your door a complimentary knock. But they will not ask to come inside.
When a Repair Makes Everything Worse
If a repair made something worse, caused a new problem, or caused lasting damage, you should:
- Not authorize any additional work on your home or appliance
- Consult your warranty, disclaimers, and signed contract with the repair company (often you have signed away your right to legal action)
- Take photos of the issues and damage
- Consult an attorney
- Consider small claims court (unfortunately these can be hard to win)
- Report the company to the BBB and file a complaint
Sometimes repairs involve insurance companies. It can be smart to have an attorney on your side making sure the other side isn't trying to take advantage of you.
Unfortunately, it is common for insurance companies to offer people less money than they deserve for damage to a home such as flooding, electrical issues, or faulty appliances.
What Accommodations Can They Make?
A repair person can only be expected to act within the job they are hired for (though some go above and beyond out of the goodness of their hearts).
They may have the right to deny the work and charge you just for showing up if you:
- Have heavy furniture or objects in the way
- Assume they will help you move or lift objects
- Have dangerous working conditions (open wires, scaffolding, etc.)
If they are bringing a large appliance into your home then you are not expected to assist them. Unless previously indicated, you are not expected to move or lift anything in your home. An exception is something like new flooring when the company says clear the room or pay their team to clear it for you.
It can feel amazingly easy to ask for other work that wasn't part of the original claim (like asking them to review a leaky shower after they fixed your dishwasher). Some workers might be okay with this, but keep in mind you'll have no proof that an accredited repair person did the work if it is not on the original work service order. If there is a future problem with the work that was done, you will be on your own.
My Repair Person Didn't Do What They Agreed
On the other hand, your repair person or their company might have made some flippant verbal promises that they don't follow up on.
Things like “of course we clean up" or “I am sure they can move that" sound great when hiring the company, but are not always legit claims. While in some cases you might have legal rights, generally, if something is not in writing it doesn't need to be done, and you don't have the right to pursue a claim.
This is also complex with unknown home issues that are diagnosed on the spot. Make sure the contract you sign off on explains the problem correctly, the steps the repair person took, and any follow-up actions they promised.
They Seem Sick…
There is always a risk of transmission when inviting someone into your home. During the pandemic, everyone should be in a mask during the appointment.
If a repair person refuses to wear a mask (or looks or sounds sick) you have the right to ask them to leave and reschedule the appointment.
Unfortunately, some companies can still charge you the travel time or diagnostic fee. Often it just takes a call back to the company to clear this up and explain the situation, but not all companies will honor this because you technically “canceled" the appointment.
Helpful hints (during the pandemic or anytime) include:
- Keep your distance
- Reschedule if you or anyone in your house is sick
- Disinfect anything the repair person touched once they leave
- Don't shake hands
- Call the company and ask what can be done if you or the technician seem sick
Looking For More Info?
If you are in the repair industry and have a problem, you may want to learn more about your employee rights, union rights, or your rights for premises liability issues.
If you hired someone, but something feels off about the appointment, your first stop may be the police or asking an attorney if you have a case.
Keep in mind the problem might not be with the person and could be a product liability issue, product recall, construction of the home, or a side effect from the previous owners of the home. Some professionals can be held liable for up to six years after the repair.
- Is My Landlord Responsible for Repairs? (FindLaw)
- Repairing Your Home After A Disaster (FindLaw)
- What Can You Do if a Store Won't Honor Your Warranty? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.