It seems to happen every time there’s a big storm.
When the trees are down and roofs are damaged, so-called “storm chasers” swoop in offering all sorts of services.
While many are reputable, others take advantage of residents while they’re most vulnerable.
Dru Siley, the city’s director of building and housing, said that these aggressive contractors often come from outside Ohio to sell roofing, tree work, fence, masonry and carpentry services.
He warns residents to use caution before making any agreements.
“People are starting to think about how they’re going to fix their house,” Siley said.
“Storm chasers take advantage of homeowners when they’re at their most vulnerable.”
Here’s how a scam often works: Homeowners pay up front for a small amount of repair work to be done, only to later learn they owe inflated amounts of money for the work actually performed.
Siley said that door-to-door solicitors may not do good work, may not be licensed and may not be around afterward to complete or correct work once the homeowner realizes repairs weren’t done properly.
He warned residents to be “very careful to avoid becoming victims of bad deals, consumer fraud or criminal conduct.”
“Our message is: do your homework and we’re here to provide a resource for information,” Siley said. “Take an extra a minute and we can help you make a good decision.”
Contractors who work in Lakewood must be registered and insured. The city encourages consumers to research every business with the city’s Division of Housing and Building before making any payments.
The names and contact information for all registered contractors may be found here.
Also, homeowners should check with the Ohio Secretary of State to determine whether a business is registered in Ohio. Unregistered businesses are not permitted to operate in Ohio, and may often be fly-by-night scam artists, according to a news release.
The city also provided some additional tips for dealing with contractors after experiencing storm damage:
Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Keep copies of receipts for emergency repairs for reimbursement later.
Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid acting in haste. Don't be pressured into signing a long-term contract. Make temporary, less expensive repairs if necessary.
Take time to shop around for contractors, get competitive bids, and check out the contractor’s history using resources like the Ohio Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau. LakewoodAlive, a local non-profit that assists homeowners on housing issues, also maintains a contractor referral list on its website.
Get everything in writing. Prepare a written agreement with anyone you hire that outlines the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Review it carefully before signing. Vague clauses such as “repair siding” are invitations for abuse.
Make sure every written agreement contains a three-day right to cancel clause, in most cases a requirement in Ohio. This ensures you can think on any contract before you’re bound by it.
Never pay the full amount of repairs in advance. A third of the contract price is a standard down payment. Pay with a credit card if possible; credit cards may offer you more protection if the work is not completed as specified.