Q: We bought our mobile home three years ago and were suckered into the extended warranty. While they told us it covered "everything" in the home, it turns out the actual extended warranty only covers certain things. Plus, when we need repairs (way too often) we have to pay a $100 deductible each time. Is there anything we can do about this so-called warranty? - Cheated Chuck
A: Dear Chuck: This is a new one for me so my Internet search engine went to work overtime to find any relief to throw your way. First and foremost, it appears you do have some potential options. Hopefully, you've read my column long enough to become a believer in maintaining all records, especially when a problem has occurred, including conversations/documentation with all relevant people.
However, just in case you've been a little careless in putting pen to paper, start right now with the following:
n Organize all your records and write down exactly what your complaints are.
n Make a record of all conversations with retailers, manufacturers, state and federal agencies, etc. from this point on.
n Always begin with your retailer. If this seller isn't helpful or won't resolve your situation, then get in touch with the manufacturer.
n It's OK to phone first, but always follow up in writing to both your manufacturer and retailer.
Address the letters to specific people with titles to create a clear paper trail; make sure the "big boss"/president/CEO receives a copy. (Contact information should be in some of the written material and information you received when your mobile home was installed.)
Include your name, address, home or work telephone numbers and label/serial number of your home, found on a red seal issued by HUD.
n As always, keep the letter brief and to the point.
Be sure to include the date and place you made the purchase, the company that performed your installation, the serial or model number and warranty terms, what went wrong and what, if anything, you've tried to do to correct it.
n Enclose copies of records and receipts, including guarantees, warranties, cancelled checks, contracts, model and serial numbers, and any other pertinent paperwork.
n Remember when you close the letter(s) to specify the date you expect a reply; I usually give them three weeks. Don't threaten to contact a lawyer or the newspaper. Threats do not work - trust me.
n Send the letters by certified mail. Some states will require this as proof of notice.
n If service personal attempt to perform work but don't satisfactorily complete the job, refuse to sign off on any service orders. Never approve any work you think is unsatisfactory.
All manufactured housing is supposed to be constructed to meet the federal building standards adopted and administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
This code is called the national manufactured home construction and safety standards and regulates the design and construction, strength and durability, fire resistance and energy efficiency.
The code also imposes the performance standards for heating, plumbing, air conditioning, thermal and electrical systems. HUD generally contracts with state administrative agencies, or SAAs, to enforce the code and monitor complaints.
As for your issues, if your retailer refuses to perform the correct necessary repair work, contact your SAA for a complaint form.
Contact information should be in your homeowner's manual. The only states without HUD-affiliated SAAs are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming so states within our jurisdiction are in good shape. The HUD website also offers information about SAAs at http://www.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/mhs/mhssaa.cfm.
n For even more oomph, fill out the complaint form and send it to the agency with dated copies of your correspondence with retailers and manufacturers, in addition to a copy of your purchase agreement.
The agency will review your complaint and send an inspector or district representative to your home.
Depending on your state's number of inspectors and the urgency of your claim, this process can take several weeks, but be sure to follow up if more than a month passes without reply.
If the agency begs off, in some states you have the right to ask for and receive an inspection. If the inspector finds your problem to be a result of a manufacturing defect, they'll lobby both manufacturer and retailer to fix the problem.
Even if your warranty has expired, some states will still force the retailer and manufacturer to compensate owners whose problems result from a manufacturing defect. Your state may even have a recovery fund with which to fix your problem if this is the case and your retailer or manufacturer is out of business.
n Used homes have shorter warranty periods, and your state may only have limited jurisdiction over them.
n If the SAA directs the licensee to perform work and it is not completed to your satisfaction, tell the SAA. If they don't hear from you, they may assume the work is completed and close your file.
If your SAA or HUD isn't as responsive as they should be, notify your state and federal elected officials.
The final option is to seek legal assistance. Many state bar associations will help consumers locate lawyers willing to take manufactured home warranty cases. And if you're in a low-income position, you may be able to qualify for assistance from the local Legal Aid office.
Further, the court system might be able to look at issues such as implied warranties (nonverbal, nonwritten guarantees that a product is fit to serve the purpose for which it was sold) and deceptive trade practice violations that some state agencies simply won't tackle.
(To be continued next week.)
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.