November 18, 1999
BOAT REPAIR LAWS
By:Daniel Duffy, Principal Analyst
You asked for a copy and summary of a California law concerning boat repairs described in an article in Yachting magazine that your office forwarded to us. You also asked (1) for a copy of a related court decision and (2) if any other state has a similar law.
Copies of laws in California and New Jersey and of a bill in Maryland are enclosed.
The article discusses a lawsuit in which George Militzer, owner of a 25-year old Ranger 37 sailboat, received a judgment of $8,369 under California's law concerning vessel repair. The Superior Court decision was not published.
The law requires vessel repairmen to give customers a written estimate for parts and labor. The law requires the repairman to obtain the customer's written consent before beginning any work. If a repairman does not comply with the law's requirements, he does not have a mechanic's lien on the vessel. It requires the written estimate to include certain facts and make certain disclosures. It also allows repairmen to work on a time and materials basis. It has provisions making allowances for extraordinary circumstances, such as vessels delivered during off-hours.
We identified only one other state, New Jersey, that has a vessel repair law. Its provisions are generally similar, but it makes a violation of its provisions an unfair trade practice. This is a very different enforcement mechanism than in California, where a violator does not have a lien on the vessel. New Jersey's law is a regulation adopted as part of the regulations implementing its unfair trade practices act.
Maryland Delegate Shane Pendergrass has prepared a bill this interim dealing with the same subject matter. The bill is along the same lines as the laws in California and New Jersey, but there are some notable differences.
The law requires anyone in the business of repairing boats to give customers either (1) a written price estimate or labor and parts for a specific job or (2) a written estimate of the maximum cost for a specific job that does not differentiate between labor and parts but does set the maximum price (Cal. Harbors and Navigation Code, §§ 410-418). The law applies to work with an estimated cost of $100 or more. A repairman who does not comply with this law does not have a lien on the boat for the value of the services rendered.
Recording the Customer's Consent
It requires repairmen to obtain a separate oral or written consent from the customer before doing any work or supplying any part more than, or different from, the original estimate. If the consent is given orally, the repairman must record the consent on the work order and the invoice. The record must show the name of the person authorizing the additional or changed work and the date and time of the authorization. If the repairman called a telephone number to obtain the authorization, the record must also show the number called. Finally, it must specify the additional parts and labor in addition to the total additional cost.
Estimates When Disassembly Is Required
If the repairman must disassemble a boat, or any part of it, to prepare the written estimate, he must first give the customer a written estimate of the cost of disassembly and reassembly. This estimate must also include the cost to replace items normally destroyed by disassembly, such as gaskets, seals, and O rings. If disassembly might prevent the restoration of a part to its former condition, the repairman must write that fact on the work order containing the estimate before the customer signs it. The repairman must inform the customer orally, and conspicuously on the work order, of the maximum time it will take to reassemble the boat or its part if the customer decides not to proceed with the work. The law prohibits the repairman from charging the customer for more time for reassembly than the amount stated on the estimate.
Once the disassembly is complete, the repairman must prepare a written price estimate for the labor and parts required to make the repair. Before making any repairs, the repairman must obtain from the customer his authorization to make the repair or to reassemble the boat.
If the customer cannot deliver the boat to the repairman during business hours and has requested repairs or an estimate, the repairman must, before doing any work, (1) prepare a work order stating an estimated price for labor and parts; (2) give the customer all of the information on the work order, by telephone or otherwise; and (3) obtain the customer's oral or written consent. If the authorization is oral, the repairman must record the consent on the work order and the invoice showing the date and time of the authorization. If the repairman called a telephone number to obtain the authorization, the record must also show the number called.
Estimates Given in Good Faith
A repairman who gives an estimate in good faith is not obligated to complete a job within the quoted price if additional unforeseen work is required and the customer refuses to agree to pay for the additional work.
The law requires the repairman to describe on the invoice all work done and parts supplied. He must list and total the charges for work and parts separately. He must state whether used, rebuilt, or reconditioned parts are used.
The invoice must state the repairman's business name and address. If it states his telephone number, it must be the number shown for the business in the telephone directory and used in the business's advertising or signs.
Time and Material Basis
The law allows repairmen to work on a boat on a time and materials basis if authorized by the customer.
The law does not apply to work done on a boat in distress in need of immediate work critical to its preservation and safety for which consent may not be obtained expeditiously. Similarly, it does not apply to situations or accidents caused by the negligence or conduct of the repairman or his agents.
In May 1999, a San Diego Superior Court awarded a customer $8,369 in damages under the law, according to an article in Yachting magazine (October 1999). The lower court decision was not published.
NEW JERSEY REGULATIONS
New Jersey regulations make in a deceptive practice under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act for someone in the business of repairing boats to fail to meet the following requirements.
Specific Written Authorization
A repairman must not begin to make repairs without first obtaining (1) the customer's specific written authorization stating the nature of the repair or problem presented or (2) if the boat is delivered during off-hours by someone other than the customer, or in distress circumstances, oral authorization. In the latter case, the repairman must note on the invoice the date and time and the name of the person giving authorization. If the repairman contacted the customer by telephone, he must also write the telephone number on the invoice.
Types of Allowable Written Estimates
The repairman must provide the customer with one of the following: a written estimated price in terms of a maximum amount, a detailed price breakdown of the parts and labor prices, or a written estimated price for a specific repair. If a repairman must make a diagnostic examination, he may charge for it. Instead of the above, a repairman may obtain a customer's authorization to proceed with repairs up to a specific amount.
A customer may waive his right to a written repair estimate in writing.
If a boat is delivered during off-hours or by someone other than the customer, a repairman must obtain a written authorization to make repairs up to a specific dollar amount or oral approval of the estimated price.
The repairman must obtain the customer's approval before beginning to make any repairs costing more than the amount of the estimated price.
The repairman must return replaced parts after he completes the work if the customer requests it.
Invoices and Documents
The repairman must give the customer a copy of any receipt or any document he signs at the time he signs it. He must give the customer a copy of the invoice. He must describe all work performed and itemize labor and parts separately. These documents must show whether he has used new, rebuilt, reconditioned, or used parts.
The repairman must give the customer with the invoice a legible, written copy of all guarantees. It must itemize all the parts, components and labor it covers. Under the law, a guaranty is misleading unless it conspicuously and clearly discloses its extent, the manner is which the guarantor will perform, and any conditions or limitations.
The repairman must post a sign in a conspicuous place informing customers of these rights.
Delegate Shane Pendergrass has prepared a bill during the interim which would establish a law similar to those in California and New Jersey. Her aide, Ellen Long, stated that the delegate will be meeting with the marine trades association to discuss it. The draft does not yet have a bill number.
The bill makes in an unfair trade practice to violate its provisions. It requires a marina to give customers a written statement that contains an estimate of repair costs, an estimated completion date, and an estimate of a surcharge, under certain circumstances. It allows a marina to charge a reasonable fee for making an estimate if the fee is disclosed before the estimate is made.
It prohibits a marina from charging more than 20% more than the amount stated in the estimate. It establishes conditions (such as an act of God) under which a marina does not violate the requirement that it complete repairs by a certain date.
It requires a marina to give customers a repair authorization form that states the consumer's rights to: request a written estimate, not pay any charges more than 20% greater than the written estimate, receive replaced parts other than those that must be returned to a manufacturer under the terms of a warranty agreement, and not pay for work that the customer has not authorized. It prescribes the way that this information must be presented on the repair authorization. The authorization must state whether there are any express warranties. It allows marinas to disclose a consumer's rights orally if the boat is towed into the marina or the boat is delivered for repair during off-hours.
It requires marinas to give customers an invoice describing all the work done on a boat and listing all the parts supplied. Like the repair authorization, it must state whether any express warranties exist. The customer must sign the invoice and the marina must give the customer a copy and keep one itself.
A marina must offer to return all replaced parts. It may not charge for any work not authorized by the customer.