Editor’s Note: Take a moment with me to imagine an industry that’s united instead of fragmented. Imagine a level playing field for restorers, both legally and financially, with insurance carriers, TPAs, and TPCs. Imagine a 75-year-old industry association stepping into the future with a new generation of leaders that are prepared to advocate for all restorers. 

This article introduces you to Ed Cross - The Restoration Lawyer - and Restoration Contractor Advocate, and the evolution of the AGA.

If you are not aware of the current movement from within the Restoration Industry Association, largely due to their Advocacy & Government Affairs Committee, please educate yourself and get involved. There are critical conversations happening and vital documents being produced. We are moving forward; now is your chance to get involved.

With the momentum of the Restoration Industry Association’s (RIA) AGA Committee, I was fortunate to sit down with one of the key figures for an interview to discuss the collaborative efforts of this active group. Edward H. Cross is the current chairman of the Advocacy and Government Affairs (AGA) Committee as well as the recently appointed Restoration Contractor Advocate. Ed is a driven professional who has a 25 year history of representing restoration contractors through his practice the Law Offices of Edward H. Cross and Associates. It was my pleasure to dig a bit deeper into his story. In researching this story, my journey led me through vignettes of the rich history of the RIA as well as several of the key characters throughout the history of the restoration industry. 

Restoration contractors should be thanking Alice Cooper

Do you remember what you were doing to develop your career in 1989? If your name is Alice Cooper, you were preparing for your Trashes the World Tour by conducting replacement drummer tryouts and unbeknownst to yourself, or the rest of the world, launching the career trajectory of The Restoration Lawyer. A young Edward H. Cross was fresh off a tour with his own band and felt as though he crushed the audition. Rock and roll is a collaborative effort which includes the efforts of those performing onstage as well as the many players behind the scenes that make a production happen. In a foreshadowing of things to come, Mr. Cooper took note of Ed’s passion commenting that he thought Ed had broken the snare drum. 

If you are in property restoration, or any aspect of the insurance industry for that matter, you are likely familiar with the feeling of having nailed an interview only to play the endless waiting game. Mr. Cross was encouraged by Alice’s manager that he thought he had the part but waited in anguish for two weeks before receiving the news that school was out on his summer of touring with the shock rock icon. Ed’s collaboration with Alice Cooper wasn’t meant to be, but this wouldn’t be the end of Mr. Cross’ passionate efforts in partnering with independent characters to compose feats of harmony. 

A problematic acronym for the early RIA

Earlier in this same decade, the late Martin “Marty” L. King developed the Certified Restorer (CR) Certification program, which is still regarded as the equivalent of a Ph.D within the restoration industry. Additionally, one of the leading associations of the time, with the unfortunate acronym of AIDS (Association of Interior Decor Specialists), made the wise decision to evolve with the times and change their name to the Association of Specialists in Cleaning and Restoration (ASCR). This would mark the third, but not final, name change for the association which began in 1946 as the collaborative effort of ten large rug companies who aligned forces to form the National Institute of Rug Cleaning (NIRC).    

The early 90’s brought awareness to the rise in prevalence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) as well as the burgeoning of the property restoration industry. Another key player within restoration circles, Cliff Zlotnik, or “Z Man” as he is known to friends and audiences of IAQ Radio, was fast at work pioneering hands-on restoration training. Perhaps most notably being one of the first to develop an onsite training center for fire and water damage restoration after he converted a vacant church rectory in 1985, which became known as the Unhouse training facility. Compelling personalities were emerging within restoration as were the collaborative efforts of the industry. In the words of Marty King, “My goal was to see the practice of insurance damage repair become a profession.”

The opportunity and liability of mold brings Ed closer to his calling

If spinning sticks was the goal for young Edward H. Cross, how did he become involved with the legal profession? Good question. While no immediate relatives were in the legal field other than a cousin, Mr. Cross knew he wanted to do something big with his life and was drawn to the drama of the courtroom. Ed shares that when he was about four years old he remembers getting dressed up for the part and conducting his own mock trial. As the dreams of rock stardom took a back seat, he entered law school to start the next leg of his professional journey. Coincidentally the one area of law that Ed did not want to get into, injury claims, happened to be the core practice of the only company that was available for an internship during his studies. 

At the time it seemed like another curveball thrown into the progress of his life, but the process of preparing medical transcripts for litigation ended up being immediately invaluable when Ed received his first client out of law school in 1995. Opportunity knocked and this first claim was by a homeowner who had been negatively impacted by the work of their damage repair contractor. This case would be the launching pad for the long term orbit of Mr. Cross’ career involvement with insurance claims, property restoration contractors and numerous courtrooms across America. After successfully litigating the case, Ed was flooded, to borrow a pun, with calls from hundreds of homeowners impacted by poor workmanship.  

Early standardization and collaboration efforts within the industry  

Just as Ed’s career was intersecting with property restoration, key conversations were occurring within the industry as well. Due to emerging environmental issues surrounding water loss and the need to develop the standards for the industry, many restorers were seriously considering leaving the RIA (still operating at this time as ASCR) to form their own water damage trade group. Thankfully in 1995 the ASCR leadership called upon Mr. Zlotnik to lead a steering group to address these water damage specific issues. An industry that was being established by fiercely independent and passionately driven professionals was also embracing the power of collaboration.  

Similar efforts had been made in the 1970’s when Marty King initiated the National Institute of Fire Restoration (NIFR) to bolster the fire restoration operating division within the AIDS banner. In the 90’s NIFR changed its name to the National Institute of Disaster Restoration (NIDR) which was eventually folded into the Disaster Restoration Division of the ASCR. Cliff and the water damage committee, developed the Water Loss Institute (WLI) and in San Francisco at the 1995 convention, RIA Past President Joe Jones declared, “There is a new kid in town and his name is Willy!” ASCR now had two thriving advanced trade designations to assist restorers with specialized education and hands on training for both water and fire damage response. 

Litigation escalation and the industry intersection with Mr. Cross

By 1996 enough contractors had been in Ed’s crosshairs that he was receiving requests to address these issues in conferences from industry groups who wanted to understand how they could prevent litigation. Mr. Cross discovered that working with contractors suited him much better than his prior efforts and he pivoted his practice. According to Ed, “The first official case referral to me happened to involve a sewage flood at a house worth $80,000. We sued the restoration contractor and others and recovered $688,000. It turned out to be one of California’s first big water damage/mold cases.”

In 1998, Edward H. Cross presented to the Orange County Bar Association, Eighth Annual Construction Law Symposium on Toxic Mold Litigation: Science, Causation and Proof. Lawyers, insurance carriers and restoration professional were taking note of the results of these cases which included six and seven figure settlements. The IICRC, Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification, was hard at work to produce its second edition of the S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration in 1999 but would not release the S520 which would be specific to mold remediation until 2003. Ed combined his litigation expertise with his passion for educating contractors to assist professionals to address the rising implications of water damage emergency response and growing public concern over mold contamination. Periodicals were streaming from outlets such as the media, public health organizations and legal journals, including many references to Mr. Cross’ work in the Pepperdine Law Review’s release of Mold is Gold: But, Will it be the Next Asbestos? 

The emergence of The Restoration Lawyer

We have spent some time developing the backstory of Edward H. Cross and his intersection with the property restoration industry up until the late 1990’s and we are going to leap nearly twenty years ahead to discuss current events. This is not to say that nothing of importance happened in those two decades, but for the purposes of our story we are not going to address that time period in any length. If you have stories and information on key industry events from 1999 to 2019, I would enjoy hearing from you and perhaps we can address those nuggets in another article. 

Ed would become an editorial task force member for the S500 (2nd and 3rd editions) as well as the S520, including Chair of the Documentation Committee for the S520. As discussed, Mr. Cross was garnering attention from restoration associations which resulted in invitations to speak on issues of litigation that water damage professionals were facing. Some of the earliest presentations include his 1998 presentation on Legal Issues of Water Damage Restoration at the Carpet & FabriCare Institute (CFI) Annual Convention. His career trajectory crossed paths with RIA, still operating as ASCR, presenting to the Water Loss Institute (WLI) in 1999 on the topic of Conflicts of Interest, Confidentiality and Disclosure Issues in Water Damage Restoration in San Antonio.  

An emphasis on advocacy takes root within the RIA

In 2007, ASCR made the fourth, and hopefully final, rebranding of the then 61 year old association. Former president, Brian Spiegel, noted that in changing their name to RIA, the Restoration Industry Association, they intend to become more active in preserving and protecting best practices in the restoration industry, resulting in more options and higher standards for consumers. Trade publication CleanLink noted, “To the industry and the public, RIA will stand for: Representation Information Action.”

In the spirit of this shift, advocacy should be a natural measure that flows from a foundation of representation, information and action. Current RIA president elect, Mark Springer, codified the call to advocacy in his early 2019 “manifesto” Our Greatest Need. Mark declares, “If restoration companies are unwilling to unite, advocate for sustainable claims practices and take a proactive approach with insurance carrier claims policies, then the restoration industry as we know it will cease to exist within a decade.” These seem like ominous words, and yet, if you talk to any restoration professional, they all know this to be true. 

Most professionals that we talk to love similar things about our industry, which include:

  • Building a team of eager, service minded and skilled professionals 

  • Helping home and business owners in their time of need 

  • Building lasting relationships based on value with claims stakeholders

The reader of R&R know that many business leaders are leaving the industry and many more are frustrated with how far things have devolved from what they used to be. Mark notes that advocacy, “Is what we [RIA] should be doing now and what we should have been doing for the past 74 years.” Mr. Springer lays out seven action steps which have become the AGA Committee blueprint:

  1. Create an RIA Advocacy and Government Affairs Committee (AGA)

  2. Prioritization of issues and solicitation of member feedback

  3. Develop position papers and position statements

  4. Hire a restoration advocate

  5. Monitor issues, advocate for positions, build coalitions

  6. Inform and engage membership

  7. Hire a restoration lobbyist

Step One: Create an RIA Advocacy and Government Affairs Committee (AGA)

At the 2019 International Restoration Convention and Industry Expo in Phoenix, the RIA announced the launch of the AGA committee and the appointment of Edward H. Cross as the AGA Chairman. Speaking to the mission of the AGA, Mr. Cross noted, “What we’re going to do is pursue issues that are very important to restorers and do it on a larger level because the restoration industry is very fragmented. It hasn’t spoken in one voice.”

Step Two: Prioritization of issues and solicitation of member feedback

Writing in the Restoration Advocacy Report #3 from August 20, 2019, Ed Cross comments that the advocacy efforts of the AGA, and the industry as a whole, must be pursued, “Aggressively, but diplomatically and ethically,” in order to create sustainable solutions for all stakeholders. By synthesizing the feedback from restoration professionals, the AGA identified four key focus areas and subsequently created four subcommittees:

  • Pricing

  • TPA (third party administrators) 

  • Investments

  • TPC (third party consultant)

Step Three: Develop position papers and position statements

As the subcommittees were agreed upon, AGA then set about to staff them with volunteers which include many of the nation’s leading experts in these areas of focus. Position papers will be the product of the research and drafting from the subcommittees which will then be reviewed and critiqued by the AGA. Following consensus by the AGA and the subcommittee, these proposed position papers will go before the RIA Board to approve, reject or send back to AGA for revision or explanation. Mr. Cross states that, “By the time a position paper is published, it has gone through multiple layers of peer review and restorers will be able to hang their hats on those positions against third parties who tell restorers ‘nobody else does it like you do.’”

  • On Oct. 30, 2019, at the Property Insurance Repair Conference (PIRC) in Chicago, the first position statement in the 73 year history of the RIA was released addressing TPA Scope Change Requests. Following the mantra of aggressive, diplomatic and ethical responses, this position paper will serve as a unified resource in the hands of restoration contractors in their plight for sustainable solutions to complex issues. 

Step Four: Hire a restoration advocate

Recognizing that RIA volunteers, who are often restoration company owners or high-level employees, are in a precarious situation when speaking candidly with regards to the issues contractors face, Mark Springer prioritized the hiring of a “tough-as-nails diplomat.” The RIA interviewed 15 candidates for the position before appointing Ed Cross as The Restoration Contractor Advocate. Current RIA Board President, Lee King, commented, “Ed is not only the most qualified individual for this position, but he also carries a deep passion for our craft.”

Step Five: Monitor issues, advocate for positions, build coalitions

Step five is an ongoing process. Ed shared in a series of videos following a three city tour of New York, New Jersey and Chicago updating conversations that the AGA has been having with representatives from Xactware, key restoration stakeholders and representatives from third party consultants as well. The AGA is continually looking for volunteer support as well as financial contributions to the ongoing efforts of the committee. 

Step Six: Inform and engage membership

  • At the beginning of the year, RIA switched their management company to Association Headquarters to provide more consistent and widespread distribution of information across all platforms

  • RIA keeps their AGA Resource page updated with official releases of Advocacy Reports and Position Papers

  • Industry publications such as Restoration & Remediation Magazine (R&R) and Cleanfax have been regularly posting updates from RIA. 

Step Seven: Hire a restoration lobbyist

This is noted on the RIA website as “pending your investment.”

Aggressive, diplomatic and ethical is the pathway forward

I am thankful that Ed Cross took some time out of his busy schedule to share his passion for the restoration industry and his resolve to be a part of the solution in advocating for contractors. Please watch the accompanying video of my discussion with Ed which is attached to this article. If you have been following the updates from the AGA, then you know there is momentum. Like many, I saw the potential for real progress following The Bill Loveland Talk and was even more encouraged to hear that this lead to an invitation to meet hosted by Xactware which Ed describes as, “A very productive confidential meeting with Mark Springer, and RIA President, Lee King, in which novel new approaches were discussed in great depth.” 

When you take a step back, from the release of Our Greatest Need by Mark Springer in early 2019 to the face-to-face discussions with stakeholders in the target areas of the AGA subcommittees already in motion for early 2020, the RIA has made significant progress on its initiatives. The time is now. The game plan is in motion and proving to be effective. It will be up to the unified efforts of all restoration professionals to maintain this momentum towards sustainably achieving our goals in an aggressive, diplomatic and ethical manner. Be a part of the action and get a front row seat to the next wave of announcements at the 2020 International Convention & Industry EXPO, Fragmented No More. The convention was originally scheduled for mid-April, but is in the works to be moved to this fall. Stay tuned!

More About RIA + AGA

The AGA Mission Statement

“The AGA will develop and implement strategies to help create and maintain a fair and level playing field, financially and legally, for restoration contractors, by advocating for their interests, while working collaboratively with stakeholders involved in the restoration process.”

RIA Timeline Highlights (please reach out to The DYOJO if you have more details to add and/or would be willing to be interviewed):  

  • 1946 Ten large rug cleaning companies form the National Institute of Rug Cleaning (NIRC)

  • 1960’s the NIRC became AIDS (the Association of Interior Decor Specialists).

    • Seven operating divisions were established within the organization: rug cleaning, drapery, carpet and upholstery cleaning, fire restoration, installation, cleaning and janitorial, and a home decorating division

  • 1971 Marty King initiates the National Institute of Fire Restoration (NIFR) to bolster the fire restoration operating division under the AIDS banner. 

    • When asked what his goal was when he founded the NIFR, his reply was, “My goal was to see the practice of insurance damage repair become a profession.”

  • 1972 International Institute of Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning Inc. (IICUC) founded in by Ed York

  • 1980 The Certified Restorer (CR) program begins under the direction of Marty King

  • 1981 AIDS was rebranded for obvious reasons to the ASCR, the Association of Specialists in Cleaning Restoration

  • 1981 Claude Blackburn opens Dri Eaz Products 

  • 1991 IICUC S001 - Standard Reference Guide for Professional On-location Cleaning of Installed Textile Floor Covering Materials

  • 1990’s the NIFR changed its name to the National Institute of Disaster Restoration (NIDR), eventually folded into the Disaster Restoration Division

  • 1994 Dr. Mike Berry and Dr. Gene Cole acquired a government grant to study 20 buildings in Denver, CO to characterize their indoor environmental quality (IEQ). 

  • 1994 IICRC S500 - Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration (First Edition)

    • According to Jeff Bishop, “Claude Blackburn convened a group of water restorers to his old tin building in Burlington, Washington to discuss a water restoration standard. Among the attendees was Dr. Mike Berry, Deputy Director of the U.S. EPA, Dr. Mike Berry, admonished the group to write an industry standard or the government wou. Mike pointed out that, if we didn’t write an industry standard, the government would write one for us.”

  • 1995 A Water Loss Specialist (WLS) division was added to the ASCR brand at the 50th annual convention. At the time, this was known as the Water Loss Institute (WLI).

  • 1997 Under the NIDR brand, ASCR published the NIDR Guidelines for Smoke and Fire Damage Restoration

  • 1997 Chuck Dewald builds the first water restoration “flood” house in East Tennessee 

  • 1999 IICRC S500 - Professional Water Damage Restoration (Second Edition)

  • 2003 IICRC S520 - Professional Mold Remediation (First Edition)

  • 2006 ANSI/IICRC S500 - Professional Water Damage Restoration (Third Edition)

  • 2007 ASCR changes name to RIA. “Strategically, RIA intends to become more active in preserving and protecting best practices in the restoration industry, resulting in more options and higher standards for consumers.” 

  • 2017 ANSI/IICRC S540 - Standard for Trauma and Crime Scene Cleanup: 2017

  • 2019 (Q1) Our Greatest Need by RIA president-elect Mark Springer is published and forms the outline for the AGA Blueprint

  • 2019 (May) RIA Conference in Phoenix - IICRC and RIA sign the Mutual Benefit Agreement 

  • 2019 (June) RIA launches Advocacy and Government Affairs (AGA) committee and names Ed Cross as chair 

  • 2019 (June) Restoration Advocacy Report #1

  • 2019 (October) at the Property Insurance Repair Conference (PIRC) in Chicago, RIA announced two major milestones in the progress of the AGA effort. 

    • The first was the unanimous approval by the RIA Board of Directors of the first position statement in RIA’s 73-year history. 

    • The second announcement is the appointment and retention of the RIA Restoration Advocate.

  • 2020 (April) RIA Conference and Industry Expo: Fragmented No More will provide a recap of the AGA momentum and announce the next steps moving forward.

Key additional resources: