After the storm: Beware of Crooked Contractors
What a summer this has been for severe storms. My family and I are becoming used to spending part of our evening in the basement. One recent storm led to considerable tornado damage along our rural road. Fortunately, no one was injured. Unfortunately, summer storms often bring out thieves who attempt to prey on those who need help repairing damage. A telltale sign of potential trouble are out-of-state pickup trucks with ladders on a back rack that are cruising damaged areas. These “contractors” move quickly from town to town and seek upfront deposits for work that is either never done, or done poorly.
What can you do to protect yourself?
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection offers tips to help protect you. First, be wary of any contractor who knocks on your door. Contact the local police or sheriff’s department to check them out before any work is started or any money changes hands. Second, hire a contractor only after you have checked references and called the Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-422-7128 to determine if the state has received any unresolved complaints on that contractor. Third, try to hire a local contractor and be aware of who the contractor will use as subcontractors. Fourth, get lien waivers from anyone you pay for home repairs. Otherwise you might end up paying twice if the contractor does not pay the subcontractors. Fifth, get a written contract with listed start and completion dates, along with warranty information and a detailed list of materials to be used. Never rely on the contractor’s verbal statements because they generally mean nothing in court. Sixth, ask for the contractor’s state registration card because legitimate contractors register with the state. Seventh, ask for the contractor’s certificate of insurance. Finally, closely observe the work being done and ask your local building inspector to visit the site before your write a final check if a building permit was required.
The Wisconsin Legislature passed a law earlier this year giving the state additional enforcement tools to protect Wisconsin residents and insurers. This law arose from consumer complaints about being ripped off by contractors who told them that their homeowner’s insurance company would reimburse them for the repair work. The law provides that: contractors cannot promise to pay all or some of a property insurance deductible, contractors cannot negotiate with the homeowner’s insurance company on behalf of the homeowner, a contractor must give the homeowner a questionnaire to determine whether the requested work is related to an insurance claim before a contract is signed, and the homeowner has a three-day right to cancel the contract following notice from their insurer denying any or all of the damage claim.
Here’s hoping the remainder of Summer 2014 brings us fewer exciting storms.