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Have Asphalt Shingles Improved? - continued

Sidebar: Some Satisfaction from Shingle Suits

Tougher standard enforcement has evidently improved today's shingles, but that doesn't solve the problem of customers who have older, defective shingles on the roof. But court action has begun to provide a remedy. Every manufacturer reportedly experienced some cracking and splitting of shingles installed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Complaints were widespread, but individual homeowners had little luck in court. Now, however, several companies have been held accountable in class action lawsuits. GAF Corporation settled with lawyers for homeowners in 1999, and Bird Corporation reached a final settlement in February of this year. A suit against Elk in Connecticut's Federal District Court is being hotly contested. Agreements in the two settled cases are similar. Lawyers for the homeowners have insisted on four main elements: • Warranty defenses dropped: GAF agreed to abandon its usual warranty defense that improper installation had caused the failures. Regardless of how the shingles were installed, the company agreed to provide compensation for failed shingles. Bird still holds to some installation defenses, but they are restricted. • Money for tear-off and labor: Typically, warranties have covered the product, and that's it. Most warranties have never paid to remove existing shingles when replacing a bad roof, or even for the labor to install the new shingles. Contractors or homeowners have been left holding the bag for what is usually the bulk of a reroof's cost. In the two settled cases, however, manufacturers agreed to provide money toward tear-off and reroof expenses. • Transferability: Most warranties have never been transferable — they cover only the original buyer. But since the average homebuyer only keeps a home for seven years, shingle failures have often occurred (or been noticed) only after a new owner has moved in. Under the terms of the settlements, companies must compensate second and third owners if shingles fail prematurely. • Independent review: The manufacturers remain responsible for evaluating claims and deciding whether or not the settlement covers any given complaint. However, a claimant who disagrees with the company's decision has the right to an automatic appeal to a designated independent third party. The company pays for the review, whatever the outcome. The bad news for roofers and builders is that the class-action settlements cover homeowners, not contractors. If you've replaced a bad roof at your own expense, don't look to be compensated out of these lawsuits. On the other hand, if you have trouble right now with a GAF or Bird roof you put on in the late 1980s or early 1990s, your customer is probably entitled to collect from the manufacturer to pay for a replacement. Information on the lawsuits is available on the World Wide Web. For Bird shingles, go to www.birdshingleclaims.com or call 800/247-3047; for GAF shingles, go to www.gaf.com/settlement or call the GAFMC Warranty Claims Department at 800/458-1860. Attorneys for the plaintiffs in both cases, as well as the ongoing suit against Elk, are Gilman & Pastor, Stonehill Corporate Center, 999 Broadway, Suite 500, Saugus, MA 01906; 781/231-7850. —T.C.