Don’t get boxed in by signing a contract with a contractor that leaves you no options. Ask the tough questions before signing any deal. *MCT illustration
Don’t get boxed in by signing a contract with a contractor that leaves you no options. Ask the tough questions before signing any deal. *MCT illustration

I wrote an article about contracts last October, which was more of an explanation with some guidance rather than addressing any particular issue. 

However, this week, I received a call from a consumer who was querying a contract that she had recently signed and how she could get out of it because she had lost her job.

After reviewing the terms and conditions of her contract it was evident that she could not get out of it just because she had lost her job. 

She had signed it agreeing to all of the terms and conditions. 

She argued that the contract was unfair; she had to pay a cancellation penalty, even after she explained that she had lost her job and could no longer afford it.

 I did mention to her that if she thought that the terms and conditions of her contract seemed unfair, she should have determined that before she signed the contract, and not signed it. 

Admittedly, some businesses are very empathetic to consumers who find themselves financially strapped as a result of a job loss or other financial setbacks and will work with you or free you of your obligation as a matter of courtesy, rather than policy. 

In this particular instance the business was less than compassionate and the consumer was left with a hefty cancellation fee.

Please remember, as with any purchase, before you enter into a contract, carefully consider the cost and whether you can afford to make the necessary payments during the life of the contract (especially if you lose your job).

Read your contract carefully. Make sure you understand the cancellation policies and charges before you sign.

Be sure about which services are included and which services are an added cost.

Remember these additional tips to protect yourself when dealing with contracts:

Take the contract home and read it very carefully — check all of the terms and conditions. 

• Ask questions until you fully understand every term and condition. Depending on the contract, especially if it is long and complicated, consult a lawyer. Free legal advice is offered every Thursday evening at the Centre on Angle Street.

• Never accept someone’s word of mouth; get everything in writing.

• Keep a copy of all contracts, warranties and receipts in a file. You never know when you will need it.

• Assume that the worst case scenario will happen and ensure that you’re adequately covered or not extensively penalized.

• If you do not agree with all the terms and conditions, try to negotiate those points so that both parties have a fair and equitable agreement.

• Make sure you are getting exactly what you need and want.

• Find out if your contract can be sold or transferred to someone else in the event that you are unable to meet your obligations (especially in the case of job loss).

• Again, I cannot stress enough — examine the entire contract.

• If you are not pleased with the terms and conditions, do not sign it.

• Do not sign a contract unless you can and intend to do what you have agreed to do.

Whether long or short, a good contract is fair for all parties.  It is written in plain English and is clear and upfront with no hidden surprises. 

While you may be able to get out of a contract if you can prove that the contract is illegal, or was induced by misrepresentation or fraud, it is important to remember that if you sign the contract, you are agreeing to the terms and conditions and you are obligated to honor your agreement. n

Honey Adams Bell is the education officer for Consumer Affairs.