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Frank Gray

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He said, she said leads to confusion over roof

A few days ago we received a letter from an Allen County woman unhappy with, among others, the county building department.

It seems last summer the woman, Karen Gardner, hired a contractor to put a new roof on a house she owns. The contractor, she said, was licensed and obtained a permit to do the work, which apparently took several weeks to complete.

When the county building inspector came to review the finished job, he simply looked at the roof from ground level and approved the work, Gardner said.

Inspectors don’t get on the roof to assess a roofing job, the woman asked? How can they even tell whether the job was done correctly?

So the woman hired her own inspector, who told her the roofing job was poorly done, that some shingles weren’t even nailed down. She said she now has to pay to have the job redone.

Now, Gardner is angry at what she regards as a poorly done inspection by the county.

I called the building department to ask about the policy. David Fuller, the county’s building commissioner, acknowledged inspectors typically do not climb on roofs when they are inspecting roofing jobs.

There are several reasons.

First, inspectors don’t carry ladders, and the county doesn’t want them out there alone climbing on roofs. It is dangerous.

Besides, inspectors are there to make sure the work meets code, which Fuller described as the absolute minimum standard required by law. From the ground an inspector can tell whether code has been met, whether flashing has been installed, whether the shingles are straight, whether proper materials were used in valleys and so on. Climbing on the roof and pulling up shingles to make sure they’re properly installed will only damage the roof, he said.

Homeowners can hire their own inspector, but, Fuller said, “We’ve had instances of less-than-reputable contractors coming in and saying there are problems so they can get a job.”

But what if Gardner really did receive a lousy roofing job?

All contractors are required by law to provide a workmanship warranty, Fuller said. If a roofing job, or any other job, proves to be below par, the customer needs to contact the contractor about the problems and demand they be fixed.

If the contractor doesn’t respond, a homeowner can call the building department. In order to get a permit, a contractor has to be licensed with the county. That gives the county some clout. If a contractor does shoddy work and refuses to fix it, they run the risk of having their contractor’s license revoked.

“That’s the advantage of hiring a licensed contractor,” Fuller said. “If there is a problem, we can pull their license. It gives them an incentive to respond.”

“We’ve gotten calls a year afterward, even five years,” about poor work, Fuller said, and the department has conducted investigations.

In one case where a contractor wouldn’t respond to a complaint about a roof, the department got the homeowner and contractor to agree to accept the conclusions of a third-party consultant. The consultant agreed the work was flawed, and the contractor had no choice but to remove the roof and do the job again, or lose their license.

The biggest problem is when someone hires an unlicensed firm or when a permit is never pulled. Then, Fuller said, “We have no clout.”

Gardner’s case, though, gets complicated. According to the building department, an inspector has been to the home, more than once, and the inspector did climb a ladder to look at the roof up close and spotted code problems, which he ordered corrected.

Gardner said she fired the original contractor. The building department says she hasn’t notified them in writing that he has been fired, so the permit remains open. Gardner says she sent them a certified letter. The building department says it spoke to the contractor, who has offered to refund her money.

If she won’t speak to the contractor, though, one inspector asked, what can you do?

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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