Federal Judge Halts Florida Property Law Provision
Do roofing contractors have the right to advertise their business and solicit work from homeowners by encouraging insurance claims? That is a question that has been in the spotlight since Florida’s SB 76 was passed a few months ago and went into effect on July 1, 2021. The law intended to curb insurance fraud, but it also set limits on roofing contractors’ ability to solicit their services to customers. Now, only weeks later, a roofing contractor has taken issue with this provision and brought the matter before a federal judge.
Gale Force Roofing & Restoration contends that the new law violates free speech rights for roofing contractors, and Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued a preliminary injunction based on that argument.
What the Law States
The state law focuses on how roof damage claims are to be handled, and supporters of the law claim that questionable and possibly fraudulent claims are one reason property insurance costs are skyrocketing. But the law also forbids contractors from executing roofing repair or replacement contracts with residential property owners unless a specific note is included in the agreements. It also prohibits contractors from soliciting homeowners to file roof damage insurance claims via “prohibited advertisements.” These include fliers, brochures, door hangers, business cards, and emails. Lawmakers who included this provision in the bill stated that the intention was to prevent contractors from pressuring property owners into making possibly unnecessary roof repairs.
What the Lawsuit Claims
In June, Gale Force filed this lawsuit explaining that the company advertises to homeowners so they will contact the contractor for roof inspections. Such a marketing strategy is illegal per the new law, and Gale Force believes that it is in violation of First Amendment rights.
As the attorneys for the plaintiff wrote, “The act is an unconscionable attack on the right for homeowners to receive truthful information about how to repair and pay for the repairs to remedy damage they may have to their property. In reality, it is a thinly veiled attempt to prevent anyone from assisting homeowners from making valid insurance claims to repair their homes.”
The Judge’s Decision
Judge Walker heard the injunction request on Friday, July 9, and issued his ruling on Sunday, July 11. He stated it was “clear that the threatened injuries to the plaintiff from banning plaintiff’s truthful commercial speech outweighs the state’s interest in preventing fraud, protecting consumers from exploitation, and stabilizing the insurance market.”
What Happens Next
The judge’s preliminary injunction halts this course of action until further review can be completed. The injunction could be rescinded, with the law standing as is, or it could be made permanent, giving these solicitation rights back to the contractors.
In many regards, it is not surprising that contractors are objecting to this law, but it is interesting to see that the focus of this lawsuit is free speech. Clearly, other contractors disagree with the stipulations of the new law, and they likely have a valid argument. Advertising their services would seem to be a basic necessity and one they have a right to carry out.
Since this is a federal case, we can expect the final determination will be thoughtful and detailed, and it will be won or lost on this constitutional challenge. We should all stay tuned to see how the issue is ultimately resolved.
Trent Cotney is Board Certified in Construction Law by the Florida Bar, an advocate for the roofing industry and General Counsel of FRSA. For more information, contact the author at 866.303.5868 or go to www.cotneycl.com.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.