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How to Compare Written Snow Service Agreements

No two winter maintenance companies are created equally, and the same goes for their written contracts. Price, service options, and visit timing will differ from company to company, but each company will provide a service contract for you to sign. When deciding on which company to hire for your snow and ice removal needs, you are ultimately deciding which contract to accept. Therefore, being properly informed as to what a winter maintenance contract can or cannot do for you is of paramount importance.

The contract should be highly detailed in regards to service times, level of service, scope of the job, and should include detailed diagrams and explanations of the work that is to be completed. A snow removal agreement that appears as not much more than an invoice or bill of sale will not protect you in a dispute with your contractor or in the event of personal injury or property damage. Statements made by salespeople representing the contractor such as "you will be done first", "you are a priority to us", or "I know how important your property is" are most often purposely vague, and do not translate into a real world service. The contract should clearly spell out what is a snow and ice event, how long the contractor has to respond to such occurrences, and a detailed description of how the work is to be carried out. Many contractors will informally promise unrealistic service and completed clearing times, but will not put this forth in writing. This is due to the fact that many contractors don't want to be 'on the hook' when it comes to guaranteed timing and will therefore not include one in their written contracts. Entering into a snow and ice contract that does not thoroughly and clearly explain the timing of the service under any and all conditions could leave you open to an incredibly slow response service with no option for possible recourse. What does 'soon after it stops snowing' mean? A couple of hours?... Before your business opens?... Within a day?... Within 24 hours?... Never leave any parts of your contract open to interpretation; everything must be spelled out as clearly as possible in order to guarantee your service.

A snow removal agreement that appears as not much more than an invoice or bill of sale will not protect you in a dispute with your contractor or in the event of personal injury or property damage.

Another area where many snow and ice contracts can be vague or purposely misleading is in regards to the matter of pricing. One common ploy contractors often use is to offer a very attractive base price for the plowing season, which gives the initial appearance of being a cost effective service. Upon further inspection however, these contracts most often continue on to describe how the contractor has the 'right' to do what's necessary to "keep the property safe at all times". This equates to extra service calls not originally included in the initial layout of the contract. The amount and frequency of these extra service calls can often be extreme; in the end costing anywhere from upwards of five times the original base plowing price. As a property owner entering into a contract like this, you are thereby legally obligated to pay the contractor for these extra services. Therefore, being careful not to enter into an agreement like this in the first place is paramount. It's important to remember that most commercial and residential properties can be quoted on a flat-rate system. This is of great advantage to the property owner in the sense that now their snow and ice removal operates at a fixed cost. While sometimes appearing slightly more expensive in reviewing your available snow and ice service options, it is generally by far the most cost effective option when looking at pricing.

Another important factor when comparing contracts is how much snow constitutes a serviceable snowfall. Some contractors will plow all the snow events with one inch of snow accumulation or greater, while others will intentionally have written into the fine print of their contracts that they will not plow snowfalls with any less than two, or even three, inches of accumulation. Historically, the Greater Toronto Area receives a number of light snowfalls each season between one and two inches of accumulation. These light snowfalls still present a great hazard to the people who use your property, which is why all snowfalls of one inch or more should always be plowed and salted. Therefore, it is always important to make sure your snow and ice removal contract does in fact include this.

I have prepared the following guidelines to help you conduct your interviews for prospective snow and ice contractors. Ask Your Prospective Contractors:

1) "How many properties did your company clear last year?"
Tip: If the answer is forty or less, they are almost certainly a one-man show.

2) "How much, and what type of insurance do you have?"
Tip: $2 Million is not enough for snow removal; the answer should be $5 Million or more, and the contractor must have a specific "snow services" rider in his policy.

3) "Are all of your employees covered by WSIB?"
Tip: Request a current issue of their WSIB clearance certificate.

4) "How many trucks are in your fleet, and of those, how many are backup vehicles?"
Tip: A ratio of one backup truck per every three or four regular service trucks is excellent.

5) "Do you subcontract any of the work performed?"
Tip: Did you know that many small contractors take on more work than they know they can handle, and will then sell off any extra jobs to the highest bidder prior to the beginning of the snow season?

6) "Do you have a 24/7 dedicated customer service person?"
Tip: The contractor’s answer will likely be: "Yeah, you can call me any time you want, I am up all night anyway!" Remember, they will be operating the plow and will, in fact, not be able to speak with you. A dedicated and true customer service person is a must.

7) "Do you provide detailed diagrams and descriptions of the areas of my property you will be servicing?"
Tip: Avoid disputes during the service season with your contractor; have all areas to be serviced laid out in writing on paper which you have a copy of.

8) "Is your pricing all-inclusive and flat-rate for the season?"
Tip: Don't be fooled into signing a contract that ultimately will leave you open for extra charges, no matter how initially cheap they make it seem.

9) "Does your company start plowing snow at an accumulation of 1 or 2 inches?"
Tip: A proper snow service should clear snowfalls at an accumulation of 1-inch, otherwise you will leave your property open to the dangers of black ice and slips and falls.

Written by George Armstrong, General Manager, Monster Plowing Company

Having started his career with Monster in the early days of the organization, George has been instrumental in helping make Monster Plowing Company what it is today. George brings with him intense enthusiasm for his work. Snow maintenance isn't just a job, its a passion, and his input, innovative thinking, and creative problem solving have proven invaluable to the success of our team. From sales to equipment maintenance, service delivery to quality control, George ensures that every day is a smooth one. In 2015, George's dedication culminated in being named a 2015 All-Star of Snow and Ice by the international Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA).
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