Who is Liable for Contractors on My Roof

Who is Liable for Contractors on My Roof

Homeowners and building managers cannot be expected to be experts in every area of maintenance and repairs that need to be performed on their building.  Day in and day out, contractors around the country are hired to perform such work because they are the experts.  Some of this work takes place in dangerous places – such as roofs – and, as we all know, falls occur.  Injuries occur.  So, who is responsible when that happens?  Can you be sued?

I know you’ve heard this answer before, but – as is often the case – it depends.   

Generally speaking, a building owner is not responsible for the actions of contractors working on their building, but there are exceptions.  From an OSHA standpoint, unless the building owner was taking on the role of construction manager, they would be free of responsibility in the event of a contractor’s injury.  If they were assuming the construction management role, that could put them in line for a citation as a Controlling Contractor under OSHA’s Multi-Employer Worksite policy.  Yes, contract language would need to be parsed even in that case, but at the very least the possibility arises.

What about legally, though?  From a litigation standpoint, is the building owner liable?  Again, the answer is maybe.  Technically,  no, the building owner can’t be liable for a contractor’s actions – unless it can be proved that the incident occurred due to the building owner’s negligence.  The best thing you, as a homeowner or building owner, can do, is reduce your exposure.  How?

  • License and Insurance:  If your contractor doesn’t have them, look elsewhere.  These are in place to help protect you, so, if your neighbor, Fred the teacher…cop…IT guy…etc., wants to help by climbing onto your roof with his tool belt, you’d better think twice about this.  And, don’t just take the contractor’s word.  Ask to see the current license.  Any hesitation to produce this should raise a red flag.  Also, ask to see a current insurance policy.  You could always call the insurance company to verify the contractor is covered.
  • Do not lend any personal tools or equipment to the contractor.  This may seem like a nice thing to do, but the moment something goes wrong with that tool, you’re exposed.  Besides, any good contractor is going to have what they need to do the job.  If they don’t, maybe they’re not as professional as they claim to be.
  • Fix up their work area.  If you, as a building owner, know of any problems that could present danger to the contractor, take care of it or have it taken care of prior to the beginning of work.   Has one of your skylight cages come loose?  You’d better repair it before a contractor steps foot on your roof.  If you can’t because there isn’t time and they are up there doing some type of emergency repair, you had better, at the very least, notify them of it.  Barricade it if you can or ask them to, but whatever you do, don’t just ignore the problem.
  • Offer up all necessary information to the contractor about things you are not able to fix.  Is there an infestation of some kind that could be affecting the integrity of the roof?  They’d better know this before they begin work so they can take whatever precautions they deem necessary to protect their workers.
  • Require your contractors to abide by OSHA regulations (unless you have a more stringent set of rules).  This does not mean you have to be out there auditing their performance (you may not, in fact, have the knowledge or ability to do so even if you wanted to), but you want them to know that you expect it of them.
  • Documentation, documentation, documentation.  First, is there a contract in place in which the contractor releases you from liability?  If not, try to get this in place.  Did you meet with the contractor to explain the hazards you could not correct?  Write up a summary of that meeting and put it in a letter or email to the contractor.  Remember, if it’s not on paper, it might as well have never happened.

The last thing you want to do is put yourself at risk when there should have been no risk to you at all.  Due diligence is the key.  Make sure you have selected a solid, professional contractor, check their paperwork and create your own.  If your contract or agreement with the contractor does not call for you to direct their work, don’t.  Let them do their job and be on their way to the next one.

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