What is a Legal Warranty?

  • La garantie légale

The legal warranty is offered free of charge to all consumers for all goods leased or sold in many jurisdictions. This basic guaranty is applied de facto on all goods. The protections may differ from province to province, but the following principles will inform you on your rights.

It protects the consumer by ensuring that the sold or rented good will live up to its expectations in terms of quality, safety and durability. It provides a description and states that it is free of hidden defects. The appreciation of these attributes will vary from one type of good to another, or for the very same good, according to whether it is high-end or of low quality.

The legal warranty is related to the good rather than to the consumer. For example, if a person buys an oven with a three-year legal warranty and that same person decides to sell the oven to someone else after two years, the oven will still be guaranteed for the remaining year, even if it has changed hands.

Practical advice: in the event you are about to purchase a used good, ask the seller if he knows the duration of the legal warranty and don’t forget to ask for the invoice if he still has it. A merchant, before offering you an additional extended warranty, should verbally inform the consumer, and in writing, that he already benefits from a free legal warranty.

Here is what you need to know about legal warranties:

A proper description

The first form of protection that is offered by the legal warranty is that the description of the good must match what has been conveyed to us by the merchant. The vendor or merchant must fulfill his promises and not make any misleading advertising. He must also respect what is stated in the contract.

Safety

Many goods are by their nature, a potential source of danger, for example, a chainsaw. In such cases, the merchant must warn you of the dangers you may face while using it. For everyday use goods, they must be safe and not endanger the people who use them. For example, children’s toys shouldn’t contain lead. One must note, however, that if a good is improperly used and this misuse puts its user or others at risk, the good will no longer be covered by the legal warranty.

Durability

The lifetime of a good can vary significantly depending on its nature. It will often be determined, in part, by the price one paid. For example, a $1200 clothes dryer will be expected to have a longer lifetime than a $300 dryer. The lifetime must be reasonable considering the nature of the object and how one uses it. It should also comply with what was described in the contract. The objective is to protect the consumer against defects that may arise following the purchase.

Quality

By quality, we mean a good that works and that must be able to be used for what it was intended, for its normal purpose. For example, a furnace that doesn’t heat properly is not performing its functions and therefore you cannot use it for its intended purpose.

Hidden defects

The legal warranty protects against this kind of defect to the extent that they are important, serious and hidden. In order to be regarded as hidden, the defect must have either escaped one’s ordinary examination of it, or the merchant should have informed the consumer about its existence but omitted to do so. To be considered serious, the defect must make the use of the good unsuitable for its normal use. And for it to be considered important, it must be such that if you had known about it before the purchase, you wouldn’t have bought it or would have paid a lower price.

Buyer Beware: If you buy something at your own risk

If you buy a good “as is” or “at your own risk” (a.k.a caveat emptor), you give up the right to the good’s legal warranty and can no longer demand a refund from the merchant. If you see an unusually huge discount on an item, it may fall under this category.

When you purchase a building

When purchasing a building, a legal warranty of quality protects the purchaser against hidden defects that may affect the use of the building and restrict its use and enjoyment.

However, this legal warranty can be cancelled if it is mentioned in the contract of sale that it is done at the buyer’s “own risk”. In this case, the buyer takes possession of the building and its defects, whether hidden or not, and at the same time he renounces his right to sue the seller for the damages caused by these defects. The price paid for such a sale will be less than that of the same building with a legal warranty. The seller lowers his price by an amount that represents the value of cancelling his risk of being sued for defects of said building.

What to do if your rights are not respected?

1) Verify the applying rules in your jurisdiction

Rules about the legal warranty are quite similar in the Canadian jurisdictions or provinces, but there are some distinctions.

2) Contact the merchant and ask for a refund or a replacement

It is often a good idea to start with a collaborative approach. When faced with a unsatisfied customer, a merchant or seller will normally be open to provide some kind of compensation.

3) Send a demand letter and get justice

Practical tips: the threat of a lawsuit may accelerate the resolution process with the other party. You can write a letter yourself. If you are not confortable doing this, use an online tool that can guide you through the drafting process. When you choose such a service, make sure that it includes delivery by registered mail. Having someone come up to your door and having to sign paperwork makes things official.