Question about plumber's responsibility for a leak that didn't show up right away

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Hi. I very recently noticed some mold in the den under the master bathroom. The mold was up by the ceiling where it meets the wall - tthe tub is above that so I knew it wasn't good. The bathroom above was remodeled about four years ago and all of the plumbing was replaced.
I opened up the ceiling and the sheetrock was wet and moldy, so I cut it out, cleaned up the mold as best I could, located what was leaking and called the plumber.
There was a copper T in the riser supplying the sink branch. The T was leaking where the horizontal line came in. I don't know how long the leak had been dripping, but for the amount of green crud on the outside of the T it must have been for a while. You could see that the solder at the T was rough and not smooth like it usually is when the solder and fitting are hot enough.
The plumber came out and took a look and agreed that it was the T that leaked and there was no other damage that caused the leak. When the remodeling work was done I did not have a contract with the plumber, it was a verbal agreement (I know that's not recommended!) and everything went fine.
That's the background, now here's my question. Is there an implied warranty of some sort that covers concealed work and problems that don't immediately show up? I know new houses have warranties, and that a standard contract usually has a one year warranty covering the work, but this is an older house, and there wasn't a contract. In any event I don't think an entirely new bathroom plumbing system should leak from the supply lines in just a few years.
So, who's responsible for the repair costs? I'm not particularly concerned about the sheetrock, painting and the few tiles I had to remove at the tub to access the plumbing. It's more of a question of whether the plumber should take care of the plumbing repair on his dime as it was his work that caused the problem.
It was due to an honest mistake - his mistake - and I know he is a good plumber. I thought that he would take care of the repair since his work caused the problem and I would not be billed. In return I would not bill him for the damaged sheetrock, painting and tile that had to be removed as I have a relative that does general construction and handyman work for me. In mentioning the situation to some friends they said that the plumber would probably hit me with a hefty bill for the plumbing repair.
If he does send me a bill, what do I do? Do I just pay it without question? Pay it and give him the bill for the other repair work necessitated by the leak? I really have no idea what legal area this would fall under and whether there is some standard procedure for a concealed problem showing up a few years down the road.
I have no intention of taking this to a lawyer or small claims court, and I live in NY if anyone knows the specifics in my state. I am just curious what people's opinions are on this type of thing and if someone could provide some guidance on how to approach the topic with the plumber if he does in fact send me a bill.
Any and all replies will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Nick
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You answered your own question.
No contract, and _usually_ there is a one year warranty. Now, 4 years later you discover a leak.
Who is to say, you didn't have a heat failure, and the cold started to burst the pipes there. Who is to say, someone didn't puncture the plumbers work with a drywall screw.
Your thinking the plumber is some how responsible 4 years later, is utterly ludicrous.
Quit being an ass.
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What would I do? I'd call the plumber and tell him I've got it all opened up and have found a foulty solder joint. Would he like to come and redo it for me ? I'd tell him I'm not holding him responsible for the damage done but would appreciate if he'd make good on the actual plumbing repair. My guesss is if he's any kind of a man at all he'll agree and look after it. .
Either that or I'd just fix it myself - since I'm capable and have all the required tools.
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On Jan 14, 5:08 pm, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote:

.
True, and if he bills you a big bill you will know what type of guy he is. Or he may not and you will call him back. 4 years is to long a time to want compensation.
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...

If you didn't discuss it at the time (of the repair), you pay the bill and go on.
Since it was his work, he may have realized he did have a cold solder joint and not bill it but I'd not count on it after four years nor would I expect him to negate the bill once sent if it wasn't discussed at the time of the repair as noted.
As for the access work repair cost, I'd not expect him to bear any of that cost at this time.
--
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yeah 4 YEARS is a long time, if he doesnt bill you send more business his way!
Around here plumbers present bill at completion of job.
so you may have gotten a free pass.
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On Wed, 14 Jan 2009 14:28:34 -0800 (PST), Handplanes
(snip for brevity:)

I'm a renovations contractor in Alberta, Canada.
Our renovations are done under written contract with a warranty of one year on work done and material provided. That's fairly standard here.
Obviously if a client has a problem, I'm not going to be a stickler for the the one year limitation ... I'll use my best judgement, and I will err on the customers" side. It's just good business ... I tell my trades that when the contract is signed, I have made my profit ... what we are working for is the repeat and the referral.
Most serious contractors do the same. It's the cheapest advertising we can buy.
A verbal agreement is a contract ... you should have asked at the time the work was done ...even had him scrawl a guarantee on the bill.
Similarly, when he did the repair, you should have asked whether he was doing it at his own expense or whether he intended to bill you and if so, how much.
The only legal maxim I'm aware of that you can rely on is that you have a right to a "reasonable expectation the work and materials are suitable for the use intended".
You should know that soldered joints will occasionally let go. There could have been the tiniest, tiniest pinhole crack weakening the soldered joint that four years of pressure finally worked through. No way he could have known or caught it when it happened.
Four years is a long time .... I'd say it's a "goodwill issue". If you're a good customer or if he's a good guy, you'll be treated fairly. Your description sounds like a couple of hours maximum.
In future, nail down the cost and the warranty in advance.
Ken
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It good have been a faulty fitting. I've experienced this at work plumb the job turn on the water only to find a pinhole in a brand new fitting!!@
wrote:

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On Jan 14, 10:41 pm, snipped-for-privacy@nospam.tnx wrote:

Agree with all of the above, including that there was in fact a contract for the original work. It was a verbal one, though, which of course presents many problems.
If it had failed in a couple months, I think the situation would be different. But after 4 years, I doubt you could prevail from a legal standpoint. Also, as someone pointed out, it could have been a defect in the materials. The plumber provided them, but is he then responsible 4 years later for a possible manufacturing defect?
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I would not expect it to be covered.

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wrote:

Ok Nick, let me run this by you. Lets pretend I'm the plumber. Here is what I say: 1) Sorry Nick, I never did any work here. Prove it. 2) Sorry Nick, You didn't want a contract 3) Sorry Nick, My work is warranted for only 1 yr. Oh, and here is my favorite......... 4) Sorry Nick, I know that in the evening while your wife is at work, I've heard you have been having intimate encounters with a 400lb woman that likes to take long hot showers with you. With the weight of the tub, water, you and her, the movement has caused the piping to stress and move. Sorry bout cher luck. Bubba
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Handplanes wrote:

Why don't you call the plumber back to take look at it and see what he says. Only he can tell you if he'll fix it at no charge.
--
Art

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the plumber already fixed it but no bill yet, around here the bill is presented at coompletion of the job
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Did you discuss it with him? If not then you should get a bill. Why would he fix it it for free if you don't even ask? A rational person would have a conversation about these things before the work is done. That conversation should be with the plumber not a bunch of people on usenet.
--
Art

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There's no mention of a GC involved, it was a verbal agreement. I agree, the plummer is pretty much off the hook in this situation. But copper connections should last a lot longer than 4 years.
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On Sat, 17 Jan 2009 07:31:53 -0800 (PST), snipped-for-privacy@verizon.net wrote:

The plumber came. He fixed it He did not leave a bill.
Chances are excellent he's a "good guy" and stood behind his work - If the OP had not been a "good guy" and had bitched and complained and threatened, the plumber may have done otherwise.
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Hi. Thanks for all of the replies. I really appreciate the input - even the one where somebody called me an ass!
To address some of the replies to my original post. I understand that you should always have a contract, but I also understand that the contract is only as good as the people who stand behind it. The people that stand behind there work don't do it because of a piece of a paper - they do it out of pride and a sense of fairness.
There was no GC. When I redid the bathroom I hired the plumber and the electrician - that's it. I've never used another electrician in over twenty years, and the plumber has more or less been used exclusively for a similar amount of time. I will be redoing my kitchen and adding a bathroom on the first floor this year, and redoing the laundry room within the next month or so. The following year I will do the third floor bathroom. I pointed all of this out to the new bosses when they first came to inspect the leak.
I fully understand that four years is a long time to expect warranty coverage. I did not ask for warranty coverage and I am willing to compromise. All of the demo, protection, drywall, redone insulation and tile work would certainly cost more than the plumbing repair, and I am not at this time expecting reimbursement for that work.
The leak had to get repaired regardless, and I would like to use the "known quantities" again, so I guess in a way this has turned into a test of whether the new bosses will stand behind their work. I think that Ken from Alberta pretty much summed up my feelings on how I would like a contractor to view their work. That attitude is what keeps people coming back for more.
So here's a bit more information and an update.
I have used this plumber on a bunch of projects over the years. The guy who does the actual work, I'll call him Ted, is a known quantity - he's a character. He's definitely a paranoid, semi-delusional guy of 67. He works alone most of the time, and he does good work and is easy to get along with, so I really don't care about his other issues. In the time since I first worked with him 23 years ago, his boss retired and sold the company, and the next boss retired and his nephew-in-law and a buddy took over the company. This is what has presented some issues. Ted is not the issue, it's the new bosses and what I should expect from them.
When I wrote the original post the plumber had not completed the repair. The new bosses came over to take a look at the problem after I had opened it up, and we were all in agreement that the leak was due to a faulty soldered joint at the T off of the hot water riser. The pipes never froze, no wayward screw or nail hit the pipe, and I certainly don't have fat women in the tub! The new bosses sent Ted over first thing in the morning to take a crack at the repair. He looked at it, didn't think there was enough access and he was afraid of setting the insulation on fire, so he begged out and called the bosses to come do it. That was the last I saw of Ted on this repair.
The two bosses showed up, tried resoldering the joint, that didn't work, cut out the T, sweated some barbed PEX fittings onto the copper pipe and used crimp rings to join the PEX. When we turned on the water, it leaked, so they cut the PEX, installed a barbed coupling and redid the crimp rings. It leaked again.
At this point the two bosses had been there for near on 6 hours. The access was restricted so the time is a bit misleading. One boss was definitely working, the other guy was just standing around as there was nothing he could do. The working boss was getting frustrated and I could see that he would either damage something or hurt himself if the frustration level increased much. His crimp ring tool's handle was hitting the tub and he couldn't have the handle perpendicular to the PEX so the crimp rings were moving around a bit and the PEX wasn't fully seated on the sweated barbed fitting.
At this point he starts telling me that more tile has to be removed. Some wall tile above the tub and more tile off to the side. All of the joints were under the tub, and I was much less than thrilled to hear that he wanted to do more damage - in my opinion, very unnecessary damage. As it was near the end of the day, I told him that we should knock off and pick it up tomorrow and that I would think about opening up the tile. At the end of the day, the water was off in the bathroom.
I did a little research on the net and saw there were some alternatives - side-crimp tools and PEX hose-clamp-type rings that are tightened by hand. I also felt that we could probably do the crimp rings with the access as it was, and I would not be removing anymore tile. When I called the plumber the next day, they were already on another job, so I asked if I they'd mind if I cut off the bad crimp rings to get us a head start for when he showed up, and he said that was fine. I love my Dremel.
The plumber still hadn't shown up by noon, so I beeped him and he got back to me an hour later. I was the frustrated one now, and I asked if I could borrow his crimp ring tool and some rings and a foot and a half of PEX as I felt I could work with the access as it was and I wanted the bathroom back online - no problem, and he dropped them off.
An hour and a half later it was done. I redid almost all of the PEX, except for one piece, and used some tricks I've picked up over the years. I used a hair dryer to heat up the PEX, bent it by hand, then cooled it off with cold water so it would stay bent, and attached the most difficult access crimp ring first (I'd mentioned that to the working boss while he was working and he ignored the advice, which I understand as he does not really know me from a hole in the wall).
I've finished patching and taping the drywall ceiling below and will start on making the removed tile into a hidden access panel in case I ever have to get in there again.
And my final questions on the subject.
Now, that's the whole situation. If you were in my situation, would you expect to get billed for the time even though you finished the work yourself? Would you just pay the bill, negotiate, or refuse to pay?
Nick
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under these conditions it must be free!!
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That's a very false generalization. Consider this. After a job that was supposed to cost $500, you're presented with a bill for $1500. Or the plumber's helper falls off a ladder and winds up in the hospital. Would you rather have a signed contract in your hand that says the job is going to cost $500 and that the contractor carries insurance? Or would you rather have nothing? With the contract, you send him a check for $500 and if he doesn't like it, he can take you to small claims. With a written contract, you're in an excellent position to defent yourself, if necessary.
Also, having it in writting protects both parties. It's not unusual for two parties to have different recollections of exactly what the scope of the work was, what was included, what was not, etc. Three months later, when the bill comes, who's to say what each party said, who understood what, etc. You want it in writing not because you don't trust the other party, but to eliminate routine misunderstandings.

I'd refuse to pay. And I wouldn't have these clowns back in the house again, regardless of whether you pay or not. And I'd say you made a mistake by not discussing what they would charge, if anything, BEFORE you let them do 6 hours of work. After they inspected it and determined it was a bad solder joint, I would have said "Since it's a bad solder joint, will you repair it for no charge?" And if they said no, then I would have done it myself. Or if it was something I dind't think I could do and wanted to use them for this job, I would definitely have gotten a fixed price up front, not let them go to work not knowing how many hours it would take or if I was going to pay.
Butch up dude!
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big snip here

I know a couple of contractors that would just get on with life and accept responsibility for their past error. In this case if they do bill, I'd negotiate something as they did cause the problem and were not able to implement the fix. They may be just happy to be out of there.
In the past year we moved our manufacturing operation to a different building. Total outside contracting was over $2 million. Some worked to a quote with purchase order, others were time and materials. I can think of only two that had written contracts. None screwed us out of a penny or did not finish their job. When you have a good tradesman, hold on to him.
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