With bad weather plaguing much of the country, homeowners need to be alert for home repair scams. Along the Gulf Coast, price-gouging laws are going into effect as Tropical Storm Bonnie churns towards shore.
In an emergency situation, consumers needing home repairs are more vulnerable to scams, said Janet Jenkins, Administrator of the Wisconsin Division of Trade and Consumer Protection. We call such scam-artists Storm Chasers.
Sometimes these contractors arrive on scene shortly after the storm, collect money up front for promised repairs, and then disappear without doing any work; or the contractor starts the work and then asks for more money than the agreed-upon price to finish the project.
Storm Chasers are typically from out-of-state, have little or no background in home repair, and charge ridiculous prices for shoddy work.
The Wisconsin officials offered these timely tips:
Be wary of any contractor who knocks at your door. Call the police or sheriffs department to check them out.
Try to get a local contractor. Ask contractors if they are subcontracting your job. Be careful if local contractors are using outside subcontractors.
Get lien waivers from anyone you pay for home repairs. It is necessary to do this because if the person collecting the money doesnt pay the supplier or worker, a lien could be put on your property.
Get a written contract, with a start and completion date, and warranty information. Also make certain the contract states exactly what work is to be done and what materials are to be used. Never rely on verbal commitment.
Contractors that register with the state are issued a card. Make sure any contractor you are considering hiring shows you their state registration card.
Have someone watch the work being done. Ask your local building inspectors to visit your job site often.
Request a copy of the contractors certificate of liability insurance.
In Louisiana, price-gouging laws went into effect following the state of emergency declaration from Governor Bobby Jindal in response to Tropical Storm Bonnie.
Price gouging is when a seller prices merchandise much higher than is reasonable or fair. The price gouging statutes prohibit the raising of prices above the pre-emergency levels unless there is a national or regional market commodity shortage.
This means that gasoline, petroleum products, hotels, motels, and retailers are prohibited from raising prices during this state of emergency unless they incur a spike in the price of doing business. The price gouging laws carry both civil and criminal penalties.
Louisiana residents and visitors who suspect price gouging should contact the Louisiana Attorney Generals Office at 800-351-4889.