California Judge May Have Created Huge Challenges For Contractors
I couldn’t believe it when I read it. A California Superior Court judge by the name of Paul M. Haakenson ordered Lowes to pay $1.6 million dollars for selling 2x4’s that are not really 2” x 4”.
Yes, your read that right!
According to the Marin County, CA district attorney's office Lowes "unlawfully advertised structural dimensional building products for sale." To put it a different way, prosecutors say that if products, including building products like a 2x4 or 2x8, aren’t actually 2” x 4” or 2” x 8” when purchased, consumers are being mislead.
It would appear to anyone who knows and understands how lumber is graded and sold that the state of California is looking for ways to fine legitimate businesses, even if those businesses are conducting business using traditional and industry accepted methods and terminology.
According to a report by Tim Regan of ProSales magazine, Amanda Manna, a spokesperson for Lowe's, told ProSales by phone that this case began when representatives from a local weights and measures division visited one of the company's retail store locations and "expressed concerns" about product measurements.
Apparently even the district attorney got involved
According to the same ProSales article Marin County District Attorney Edward S. Berberian said "Consumers should expect when making product purchases that retailers are providing accurate information. Especially when misinformation could adversely affect building projects that more often than not rely on precise measurements."
As part of the judgment Lowes was ordered to pay $1.47 million in civil penalties and costs of the investigation, as well as an additional $150,000 to fund further consumer protection-related activities. Lowes also will now display the actual dimensions next to "commonly used measurements" in product descriptions and on in-store signage in its stores across California.
How and why this may affect contractors
Lowes may be able to afford to pay these fines and make changes to make the government go away, but what about the typical small business contractor? Will the state of California go after contractors in the same way? Does this judgment create awareness and open the door for more consumer law suits against contractors? Here are a few questions to think about:
- Will you have to describe the actual dimensions of every framing product you specify in your next proposal, including the actual thickness of sheet goods?
- Should architects and designers now provide similar information when they create plans, just to be safe?
- How much can manufactured lumber vary from its actual published size; will 1/16” over or under be OK, but 1/8” or more is not?
- What if the lumber is actually larger than the size you specified because it is wet?
- If you contract to build an 8’ by 12’ deck will you have to explain in your contract why it will be a few inches smaller than that, each way? If you don’t, in California will your client be able to sue you because the deck wasn’t exactly 8’ X 12’?
The Bigger Picture
Some of you might say, well that’s in California; it doesn’t or won’t affect me.
I say you are wrong.
If we as an industry let even one government agency get away with such stupidity and allow them to use regulations in ways they were not intended, we are all opening up the door for more special interest groups and government agencies to regulate us out of being able to run profitable businesses.
Think I’m being a fear monger?
How about this additional detail about the settlement. According to another report by ProSales California now requires Lowes to use the "inch-pound unit," meaning they must include abbreviations such as "in., ft., or yd.," and can't use symbols like ' or '' to denote measurements.
Better start editing your stock proposals and or project specifications!