A simple question. And a good one. But the answer gets complex.
Here’s the easy part. The federal 3-day cancellation notice is always required when any improvement to a primary residence will create a lien on that property. Since all states grant mechanics' lien rights for improvements to private property, the federal cancellation notice is always required. But note the word primary. The federal notice is not required on a secondary residence, such as a vacation home.
Now, let’s talk about state cancellation notices. Nearly all states require a 3-day cancellation notice when home improvement services are sold at the project site. That’s a home solicitation sale. But thirty-one states waive their state 3-day home solicitation notice if the contract includes the federal 3-day home improvement notice. So, in those thirty-one states, no state notice is required if you give the federal notice.
Caution: Be careful in these 31 states when work is not on the primary residence of your client. The state notice may be required even if the federal notice is not. Note also that wording of the notice varies from state to state.
Law is different in the remaining 20 states (including the District of Columbia):
Fourteen states (FL, GA, HI, IN, MI, MO, NH, NJ, NY, ND, OK, VT, WV and WY) waive their 3-day home solicitation notice if the deal is signed at the office of the seller or if the sale started with an invitation from the owner. I call this the big box store exception. This is why most Home Depot and Lowes home improvement contracts skip their state cancellation notice but include the federal notice.
Rules vary in the other states:
- Alaska requires a 5-day notice unless the deal was initiated by the owner.
- Connecticut always requires the state notice.
- District of Columbia never requires a home solicitation sales notice.
- Texas waives the state notice if the contract includes the 3-day notice required by the Federal Door-to-Door Sales Act. Since the federal door-to-door notice isn’t required when a federal 3-day home improvement notice is in a contract, Texas home improvement contracts need both the Texas home solicitation notice and the federal home improvement notice.
- Washington requires a state cancellation notice only on roofing and siding jobs.
Now the fine points
Federal law considers Saturdays a business day. So, an owner who signs a home improvement contract on Friday has until midnight the following Tuesday to cancel. Most state laws don’t count either Saturday or Sunday as business days. The same owner would have until midnight the following Wednesday to cancel if the state notice is required. This is an important distinction. Contractors have to write on the cancellation form the last day the contract can be rescinded.
An entirely different set of rules apply if you offer a credit term or recommend a lender. Better to leave the lending to others.
Eighteen states (AL, AZ, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MI, MO, MS, NE, OK, SC, SD, TN, UT, WI, WV) have different 3-day cancellation rules if any part of the cost will be covered by insurance.
In an emergency, the owner can waive the right to cancel under federal law. Some states offer the same option. But you still have to deliver the 3-day cancellation notice.
Finally, be aware that the penalty for a faulty 3-day notice is severe. Under federal law, the owner has three years to bring suit for a refund. Many states label it “consumer fraud” when a contractor omits the state cancellation notice.
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