Dennis BeaverMarch 4, 2022 • By Dennis Beaver 

“Be it a mom and pop neighborhood store or a Fortune 500 corporation, the surest way of getting into legal hot water is operating on an assumption that you understand the law as it applies to your business, failing to seek legal advice when alarm bells sound, and if informed by credible sources that you are wrong, still clinging to the belief that you are right.”

— Lyle Sussman, Emeritus Business Professor and author at the University of Louisville.

Kathy Needed Blinds for Several Windows – Home Improvement Contract Required

Over the past two years, homeowners across America have invested heavily in new window coverings – blinds and shutters. Now, if you are in that category, today’s story could be important, especially if you dealt with a company like the one a Hanford reader crossed paths with. So right now, get your estimates and contracts.

Longtime reader Kathy Oliveira, renovated several rooms in her home and needed to replace window coverings. In mid-December 2021:

“I visited a store in town and requested a shutter price estimate. Two days later, one of their salespeople came to my home, measured the windows and gave me a proposal for the blinds and installation.”

The company has been in business over 20 years, and has a C-61/D52 – Window Coverings License – issued by the California Contractors State License Board. Many states have similar license designations.

In California and most states, generally, contracts of $500 or more must comply with their Home Improvement Contract law, including where applicable, A Right to Cancel form, given to the customer and commonly known as the Three Day Right to Rescind.

In many states, that time frame has been expanded significantly — well beyond 3 days — depending on the customer’s age and type of work that is to be performed.

As Kathy would discover, these folks failed big time to comply with the law.

Asked About a 3-Day Rescission

The sales rep suggested that in order to use their window coverings, Kathy should remodel all her window frames — which she immediately rejected. She was given and signed an un-dated one page “Proposal” in the amount of $1774.57 and asked, “Don’t I have a 3-Day Recession right?” She was told, “Just let us know within 30 days.”

The proposal completely failed to comply with applicable legal requirements. I showed it to several people, hearing each time, “This is just a proposal, it is not contract.”

The next time she heard from the company was, “A Monday, Feb. 7 phone call saying they were coming out in two days for the installation! I said that’s impossible! There was no date of acceptance on the proposal, nobody called to confirm that a sale had been made, it clearly appeared as if the entire thing was nil!”

The caller made it clear that Kathy would be held responsible for payment, regardless.

An Appeal to Reason – Nasty Voice Mail

When it was clear that the blinds seller was blind to reality, Kathy emailed me the facts of this case, the “proposal,” and alerted Hanford attorneys Ron Jones and Hunter Swearingen of Kahn, Soares & Conway. This law firm has been friends of “You and the Law” for many years.

I briefed them on the significance of the company’s total failure to follow the law:

— Note: it does not apply to car sales, emergency repairs and a number of other transactions.

— With an at-home sale, or “other than at the business location itself,” the merchant is required to give customers a filled out 3-Day Right to Cancel form that shows the last day they have to cancel. For senior citizens, in some states, it can be from four to seven days.

— A failure to provide this required notice means the contract can be cancelled at any time, even after performance by the business.

— And, as strange as this sounds, there are cases of work having been done — such a house painted or concrete foundation poured — but without the required cancellation form, homeowners have been able to cancel and not pay a dime! Otherwise, merchandise must be picked up within a specified period of time or it may be kept.

— Additionally, these failures can lead to a loss of a contractor’s license as well as action taken against them by the Attorney General and/or the District Attorney’s office for Consumer Fraud and Unfair Competition.

Ron and Hunter both wrote to “Chelsea,” the company’s responsible managing officer/owner, who had been threatening Kathy with a lawsuit. They politely explained the law and urged that she speak with her own lawyer.

This resulted in Chelsea leaving a nasty, threatening voice mail for Kathy.

I also tried to reach her, leaving my own voice mail which, in summary said, “Please call — I’m a pretty good peace maker if you give me a chance.”

I’m still waiting for that call. I shudder at the thought of how many business owners are blind to their obligations under the law.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.