Customer bitter over clogged gutter

The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) doesn’t take the vagaries of the weather into account.

Julian Burger bought a carport from Sunset CT Projects, Table View, in February 2017 after he saw it advertised “as a clean, aluminium, low maintenance carport with concealed gutters”.

The Oostersee resident said the carport was put up soon after he signed the contract. “Their advertisement states that the carport was low maintenance and rust-free but a year later, following the rain, the gutters became clogged with leaves and debris. The inner aluminium beam was also rusting and the roof has a bow in the middle as there is no place for the water to run off,” Mr Burger said.

“When I reported it to Sunset CT Projects they offered to clean out the gutters with a hose but they would charge a call-out fee of R850. I tried to do it myself but the gap between the roof and gutter was too small. Again I asked Sunset CT Projects to investigate as it is a latent problem. But they refused,” said Mr Burger.

He then complained to the Ombudsman and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), which in turn referred him to the National Consumer Commission (NCC) who sent him to the Consumer Protector in Cape Town, who closed the case, and referred him back to the NCC, which said they did not have the mandate to assist.

“They referred me to the Consumer Goods and Service Ombud (CGSO) who acknowledged my complaint but told me a month later that the supplier had failed to respond”.

When I contacted Sunset CT Projects, the spokeswoman, said: “We cannot prevent you from publishing your story. We can defend ourselves with the truth but unfortunately by publishing any negativity about our company automatically creates a bad impression about us. Please keep my name out of it as I do not want to be part of this story which can damage our company’s reputation.”

This, before she knew what I was going to write.

“We installed the structure in February 2017. Our operations manager told Mr Burger he would need to keep his trees trimmed so that the leaves don’t clog the gutters. We offer a one-year workmanship guarantee but Mr Burger sent us an email of complaint one and a half years later. We offered to clean his gutters at a fee as the problem was not our structure or work. Mr Burger did not mention anything about rust in his emails to us,” she said.

“The guarantee had expired and we were under no obligation to assist. Mr Burger did not want to pay the call-out fee and he was warned to keep his trees trimmed,” Sunset CT Projects said.

Albert Nkomo of the Consumer Protector’s office in Cape Town asked Sunset CT Projects for an explanation, which they provided but denied any liability.

Mr Nkomo told Mr Burger in an official email, that the “business persists with its denial of liability as set out in their correspondence dated September 19 2018” and we record that despite our attempts to engage with the business via ADR (alternative dispute resolution) with the view of resolving your complaint, we have been unable to do so. Our attempt at mediation has been unsuccessful… and we have closed the file.”

Which is where it becomes murky. Sunset CT Projects said the only correspondence they had with the Consumer Protector was a letter asking for an explanation.

Mr Burger said: “I fail to understand how systems are put into place to assist the consumer but then allow the suppliers to get away with unsatisfactory service. I am concerned that this is a design problem and other people will find themselves in the same predicament. It is unfortunate that these issues are not highlighted and these companies get away with murder. It is unfortunate that you are not willing to assist.”

The issue is not as cut and dried as Mr Burger seems to think. Sunset CT Projects has done nothing wrong, although as a gesture of goodwill they could have offered to clean the gutters at no charge.

Specialist consumer attorney, Trudie Broekmann of Broekmann Attorneys in the Bo-Kaap, said the CPA offers two remedies for consumers who receive defective goods or goods which don’t work (a product failure).

“The first remedy is to return the goods, but it has to be done within six months from delivery, so Mr Burger is out of time, or they can claim their damages from the supplier, and they can claim not only for the repair or replacement cost of the product, but also for the repairs required as a result of the defect or product failure.

“It sounds as if Mr Burger should get a few quotes for the work required to resolve the issue with access to the gutter, and they can claim for that, as well as for replacement of the rusted sections, and repainting of any area which may have been stained by the rust. If the supplier refuses to pay them out, they can report the supplier to the CGSO who will investigate but only if the supplier registers and pays the registration fees.

“If the supplier still refuses to pay, they can sue the supplier but it has to be done within three years from the date when the consumer realised there was a defect. If the amount claimed is around R15 000, Mr Burger can approach the Small Claims Court where the clerk will advise him, so he won’t incur legal fees,” Ms Broekmann said.