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Question DetailsAsked on 4/25/2017

Homeowners complaining about tile floor lifting.

I have some homeowners complaining about work I did. I've told them their warranty is technically void at this point. I offer a 1 year, but was willing to honor this and replace the few tiles that are lifting. He doesn't want that what-so-ever. sounds to me they don't like the tile floor anymore and are trying to get a new floor out of my expense. Threatening to take me to court even though I've offered to come and replace the ones lifting. Is there any advice or help you can recommend? At this point I don't even want to deal with the guy, but want to make it right. Thanks in advance!

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Sounds like you posted two similar questions here - answering identically at both posts.


When dealing with them, first off, don't say their warranty is "Void" - if you gave a 1 year warranty with the original job, it has "Expired" - a less stringent sounding phrase, even though both would mean the warranty is no longer in effect. "Void" technically means it would have been in effect except for some reason it was cancelled (like due to customer modifications or such), whereas in this case it has just aged out, so it is "expired" - which would also make it a non-argueable end of warranty.


Since you want to protect your reputation, you should be able to check the floor out and by tapping around with the butt end of a wood handled pointer determine how many tiles are coming up - and by checking with a LONG level, maybe determine if the floor is OK but just one area of tile popping up, or if instead maybe the entire subfloor is swelling or bulging or sagging - maybe due to a water leak or sagging floor beams, which is causing the tiles to pop free ? If you take up a few of the loose tiles you might also see if the thinset/mortar bed is damp underneath, indicating a leak or excess spillage/splash from sink or dishwasher which is actually causing the problem - in which case clearly the problem would not be yours to fix even if it had still been under warranty. Grout joint cracking patterns and especially any through-tile cracking might also give indication of subfloor or foundation movement as the cause of the pop-ups. Also, check for floor bounce - could be the subfloor is bouncy or coming apart - if readily visible underneath you might also check for and photo any water damage or obvious structural failure which might be causing this - cracked or rotten or insect-eaten beams, missing or loose flooring support columns, etc. Just remember you are looking at this for YOUR Protection - not to offer them a home inspection, so you can certainly point out anything you believe is causing the loose tile, but I would not give any opinion on how to fix it or of any contractor to do so. And of course, if such is the case, I would probably walk away from the repair offer as being an ineffective way to address the problem.


Basically a couple of ways to handle this - but I would put it in writing. You could contact them - preferably with a xerox copy of the original final invoice and day work sheet or log showing the exact (as much as possible) date when the job was completed, and on the invoice or on a contract page showing the original job warranty was 1 year. Then along with that copy of the documentation you would have two choices (keeping a copy of everything you send - and I would use a tracked method like USPS delivery confirmation number as proof of the date you sent it to them):


1) tell them in the letter that their warranty has expired, you are sorry their floor is having pieces come loose but it could be coming up due to water infiltration or subfloor movement or other cause, that because it performed well for the warranty period and beyond that you do not believe it is a tile laying failure, and is not your responsibility to repair after warranty expiration.


2) or tell them basically the above about the warranty expiration and possible causes, BUT that you are confirming your verbal offer that despite the warranty being expired you will do a one-time courtesy inspection and, if repairable without subfloor repairs, repair of the currently loose tiles only (and state a time period this offer is good - like say within the next 30 days, so it is not open-ended), and that the repair will not in any way extend or include an additional warranty. If doing that sort of repair, check state law in your area - in a few states ANY home improvement/repair work has an implied warranty, which could end up with you being on the hook for a possible new warranty on the repair even if not charging for it - so this can be a catch-22 situation. If you do go ahead and do a courtesy repair, be sure to photo the area after the loose tiles are removed to be able to show the exact limits of the repair against the possibility of future complaints/issues/suit. Also, because you can't normally guarantee being able to find identical replacements, you might have to put in a caveat something to the effect you cannot guarantee a match with the existing tiles if some turn out to not be reusable and identical replacements are no longer available.


Yes they can sue you - people can sue for anything, though if you can show there was an expressed one year warranty, or probably even without an express warranty since you are evidently well past the industry-normal 1 month to 1 year home repair warranty period, you could probably get the case thrown out of court fairly easily. Though you would likely still end up paying legal costs for your defense in that case even if you win - a major injustice in the "justice" system.


How likely it is that you will be sued, considering the $ value of the claim and the people involved ? Your call on that with you knowing the client - some people come to the realization it is out of the realm of reality for this sort of claim, others get their hackles up and will pursue it to the hilt "on principle" Archie Bunker others will fall prey to the "Judge Judy" syndrome and think they can win in small claims court by being righteous - and some are just plain obnoxious people and "bad customers", like your stereotypical Seinfeld show New Yorker type who feel entitled and that the world owes them anything they want and may be doing just what you say - trying to get a new floor for free more because they want something new than because they legitimately feel your work was defective.


In their possible defense - in my experience doing tile work (my Dad was a tile/countertop contractor so I have a fiar experience in that) I have seen cases where thinset did not stick properly to tile, possibly because of the tile composition or oil in the clay or form oil used in pressing the tiles, or because the thinset was not allowed to set and slake properly then remixed, or perhaps the tiles were not properly buttered - if the tiles pop up with basically no thinset sticking to the back that might indicate one of those to be the case. Ditto when helpers are handling the tile and do not pre-soak it long enough (ortoo long with absorbent tiles), or it is put down wet without shaking it off to remove the free water.


Now the legal bugaboo - since they have threatened to sue, you should probably at least run this past an attorney to ensure you are protecting yourself adequately - and possibly the letter to them should be written by one too for that same reason. I suspect an attorney would, given your not wanting anythingn more to do with this client, recommend sticking to your guns on the warranty expiration and not doing any repair - which protects you against any possible additional claims as a result of the repair (about the tile, or claims of tracking cement across their rug or scratching their hardwood floors during the work or such - some people will pull stunts like that), and also to avoid any possible confrontation or continuing complaint from the client resulting from the repair or while you are there. Those risks need to be weighed against the possibility that they will badmouth or webpost about your company, damaging your reputation. - certainly doing a courtesy repair would give you ammo to respond back to any such post you find out about, but might or might not be worth the risk of continued contact with this client.


Also, since you have been threatened with a suit, you may be required under your Bond contract to notify possibly your Bonding company of the threat of suit (that one is questionable since with the warranty expired they probably cannot put a valid claim on your bond because the job is totally "done" under the contract once the warranty expired, though they can of course try), and almost certainly your general liability / Inland Marine insurance form requires that you notify the carrier of any known possible claim or threat of claim against the insurance. An attorney (with copy of those contracts in hand) could give you better advice on that, but be careful - some policies (especially commercial ones) basically make the insurance voidable for any occurence where you know of a pending or imminent claim and did not notify the bonding company/insurance carrier so they could take proactive action to mitigate the risk/claim.


One other catch-22 - in some policies work you do not charge for and is not covered by warranty might be considered to not be "work" and hence not cover any liabilities arising from doing the repair. Saw a contractor working on a non-profit job for free which we were also working on - he got into an backing-up auto accident with serious injury on the jobsite, and his business insurance policy would not cover it because they said it was not work, it was his personal time and travel. And his private auto insurance would not cover it because it was a company vehicle involved - that is the sort of catch-22 which keeps attorneys in business, but if going to do a free repair you might ask your attorney about that issue - or at a minimum DOCUMENT in advance, in your business records (like on a timesheet or such), that this is being done to protect company reputation despite not being covered under warranty so is a legitimate business activity.


Good Luck

Answered 1 year ago by LCD




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