They really don’t want you to read the fine print before signing a contract because you might find out that what their sales reps promise you that the product or service includes and what the company will do if xyz happens is not the case.

It is essential that you know that anything a sales representative tells you, promises you or “adds to the contract” in his own handwriting, is not legally binding on the company.

Most companies do not give their sales reps the authority to modify their contracts.

As a result of the combination of long, dry pages of gobble-dee-gook words and sales reps that promise anything to get your signature on one, it is important to know what major elements and services to look for in any security service contract as you skim through it.

Nearly all complaints about billing, products or services are due in large part to customers failing to read the actual contract before signing it and expecting whatever they heard in advertisements or from the sales rep were accurate facts in the contract.

This is true of all companies that sell products in or for the home or business – not just security or alarm service companies.

If the representative states that the company “guarantees” that a police officer will be dispatched “immediately” to your house in case of a burglar alarm, ask him/her to show you in the contract what the “guaranteed response time” is.

The fact is that no alarm monitoring company can or will “guarantee” any response time or for that matter that the police will respond at all. Some police departments instruct the officers to do a “drive by” and see if anything appears out of the ordinary.

However, if an intruder has broken a window or door lock in the kitchen and is in the back of the house with the lights out and the officers are in their car, they may not see anything at all.

In such a situation, the officers will just leave and report that there didn’t appear to be a break-in.

The company’s rep will often tell you that when an alarm comes in that you will be contacted by their call center and if you cannot be reached, they will contact the next person on your contact list.

What the rep may fail to tell you is that the contract does not guarantee that someone will be notified by the call center at all.

As a matter of fact, the contract used by both ADT and Vivint state explicitly that “at the company’s sole discretion” it may call you or your contact person to inform and verify the activity.

Essentially, this means that there is not even a guarantee that you will be contacted at all.

In practical terms, the companies do attempt to contact you and the first name on your list one time but if there are alarms holding in a queue, they may not attempt to call everyone on your list and may not let your phone ring more than 4 times.

In practical terms, the companies do attempt to contact you and the first name on your list one time but if there are alarms holding in a queue, they may not attempt to call everyone on your list and may not let your phone ring more than 4 times.

As a result, the monitor may be instructed by the company to hang up and take the next alarm.

Ask the representative if there is a response service available such as an investigator response or guard service response that you can add to your contract if you cannot take off from your job at a moment’s notice or if you work out of town most of the time.

ADT does have this service available as a drive- by investigator and as an interior investigator that will actually go inside your home to see if there is indication of an intruder.

However, there is no guarantee that they will be able to dispatch an investigator if they are all busy.

Vivint may offer this service but it does not specify if that is available through them.

If the service is not available through the alarm company, you may want to call your local police department and ask for recommendations for guard services that perform such services locally.

Unless otherwise stated in the contract, the equipment that the company sends you has a limited warranty for the first 30-days and if it does not work correctly because it is defective, the company will replace it at no charge during that time only.

If you delay calling them for any reason past the time designated as “equipment warranty” in the contract, you will be charged for replacing the equipment as well as for time and labor to do the work. This little tidbit is included in your contract regardless of the company that you are doing business.

Look in your contract for “installation fees”, “installation charges” and “refunds” to know exactly how much you may be charged for acquiring the equipment.

Most of the contracts have a sentence that allows them to charge you more than is written on the sales contract “if they have to hire a private company” or “outsource” their work to someone else.

In effect, this means that you may be charged more for installation than you expect and thought that you agreed to in the contract.

Most contracts have some type of “Maintenance” specifications. Most companies may offer a “maintenance service” as an add-on at additional cost for the entire period of the contract.

Usually, the maintenance service covers only “ordinary maintenance and repair” that the repair person indicates is not due to something the customer did or failed to do and is not due to anything caused by “acts of God” or damage by a burglar or fire.

Look in the contract for information usually under “conditions” or “Use by Customer” paragraphs. These areas will tell you what you are responsible to do and responsible to pay for if damages occur.
In short, most companies are not responsible for anything that happens to your system, your property or anyone else’s property that was in the home if an intruder or fire damages the property – even if the alarm company did not dispatch the police or fire department in time to stop the damage.

The sales rep may ask you or suggest that you allow for a Familiarization Period, check the contract for what happens if an alarm is set off during this period. Most companies will not respond to them and most signals will not be sent to the monitor center so they will never be seen.

FrontPoint and Vivint do not require that you test the equipment on a regular basis to ensure that signals are being received and your system is working properly. These two companies send a daily ping signal to your alarm system and record the response.

All other companies in our list may require that you test your system and notify the company if your system has failed to send signals from each sensor. They also require that you have the part that is failing to be repaired within a specified time.

Be sure to read any section in your contract that talks about “Exclusions”.

You may think that your warranty service covers more than it actually does and find out after a repair person fixes a window sensor or an exterior CCTV camera that these items are not covered at any time.

Look for the phrase, “If notwithstanding the provisions of” this contract or section of the contract because it will tell you what happens if a court finds that the company is responsible for some failure of service.

Usually, the company states that if the court finds it is liable for damages due to failure of service in some way, that “you agree” that the company will only have to pay you a specific amount - $1,000 or 10% of the service charge whichever is the least – is common.

In addition, by signing the contract, you will also be agreeing that the company will not have to pay your legal fees or court costs even if you win.

Another phrase to hunt down in your contract is “any other person making a claim or filing any lawsuit” against the company – such as your insurance company who may choose to suit to recoup some of the loss experienced for paying you damages.

This “third party” action typically includes a statement that makes you responsible for the company’s legal fees, court fees and amounts that the court may charge them if they are found liable for the damages. This means that you agree by signing the contract that you will reimburse the alarm company if they lose in court.

Most companies also state in the contract that if anything happens to their call center – such as a fire or damage to the structure or signal equipment - and your system cannot be monitored for any time period that they are not responsible for delays or inability to provide the service but that this is not a “breach of the contract”.

In short, most alarm service companies make sure that they are not able to be held responsible for anything that does or does not happen to your property or to their equipment-- including their failure to contact you, notify your contacts or dispatch appropriate personnel to protect you and your property.