Last year, water from a damaged gutter on the third floor of Natasha Seaman’s Jamaica Plain home seeped all the way down to the ceiling of her first-floor dining room.
So Seaman and her husband hired a contractor to tear out the wood gutter on their 120-year-old Victorian house and replace it with a copper one, along with new downspouts.
While the job was underway, Seaman questioned whether the new gutter’s design would work, but the contractor, Capital Construction, assured her that everything was under warranty for one year.
When I stuck my head out of a third-floor window for a look at the gutter last week, the problem was obvious. It was a sunny day, yet the gutter brimmed with about four inches of standing water, mixed with rotting foliage. It seemed only a matter of time before water would infiltrate the house again.
Seaman had paid almost $50,000 for a list of exterior improvements, including repairing stairs and porches, replacing windows and siding, painting, and a new gutter.
But every time it rains heavily, she said, water gushes over the top of the gutter. She showed me a 10-second video to prove it.
“I paid for a functioning gutter, but I didn’t get one,” she said. “Instead, one problem got replaced with another one.”
Collecting and diverting rain water isn’t always simple, especially on a 19th-century house that includes a curved turret and other period design features. But the immediate issue Seaman faced was one familiar to many homeowners: getting a contractor who has already been paid in full to return a call.
“After a period of seeming like they were going to do something, they stopped responding to my e-mails,” said Seaman, who, like her husband, Anthony Apesos, is a college professor. (She teaches art history at Rhode Island College; he teaches painting at Lesley University.)
One task I often do when first evaluating a consumer’s dispute with a business is to create a chronology of events. Creating a narrative produces a sort of script that can come in handy in the back-and-forth with a recalcitrant business.
Fortunately, Seaman did almost all of her business with Capital through e-mails, which she forwarded to me. The chronology showed that Seaman first asked Capital to look at her overflowing gutter in the beginning of March and that Capital set up a meeting onsite on March 28.
Seaman’s next e-mail: “No one showed up.”
“Our apologies,” Capital responded one day later. “One of our guys will be there today.”
If Capital did show up that day, Seaman missed them, because, as she told Capital at the time, she had to be on campus 45 miles away at the time Capital wanted to meet.
Seaman never heard from Capital again. Not after she e-mailed on May 22 (“Can we please get this done?”) and not after she e-mailed on May 29 (“Could I get a response?”)
I showed up at Capital’s office in Dorchester after my visit with Seaman. I told them about Seaman’s complaints and showed them some of the e-mails and pictures of the gutter. They promised to look into it right away. I’ve arrived uninvited at lots of places in my years as a reporter. Some were welcoming, some closed-mouth; a few took swings at me. The people at Capital struck me as genuinely surprised and hurt by what I brought them.
The next morning, Capital called Seaman, and within 24 hours a Capital representative was leaning out of the same window I had. Maybe Capital reacted quickly to get rid of me, or maybe it was in keeping with the company’s oft-repeated pledge of customer satisfaction: Of the 58 reviews posted by former customers on Google, an impressive 95 percent of them gave the company a top rating.
I tried to engage company representatives in a discussion about why this happened and why they hadn’t responded, but they declined. In a written response, the company said someone from Capital had in fact visited Seaman’s house on April 3 (while she was gone).
The statement went on: “It seems there may have been some miscommunication as to what the issue was. We are making every effort to resolve this in a timely manner.”
A word about warranties: The one spelled out in Capital’s contract protected Seaman, but consumers should be aware they may be protected even in the absence of an expressed warranty. Courts have long recognized that contractors create an implied warranty of limited duration whenever they represent to consumers they are capable of doing the work for which they get paid.
Seaman paid for a fixed gutter. That’s what she deserves.
Sears last week quickly refunded the $630 Fran Carleton paid to have her refrigerator fixed, even though it could not be repaired. In last week’s column, I detailed how Sears claimed it needed the replacement parts returned before it would consider a refund. Those parts, however, were long gone by the time Sears asked for them back, because Carleton had bought a new refrigerator.
Carleton, 79, of Canton, later wrote that she hoped the column would inspire other consumers to have “the hope and the guts” to demand fair treatment.
I like her style.
Sean P. Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.