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On Your Side: Protect yourself from phony contractors

Published: Apr. 1, 2021 at 7:37 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Dozens of homeowners in Alabama are waiting for needed repairs after more than 30 tornadoes ripped across our area in March.

Because of the pandemic, Hurricane Sally and recent storms the damage outweighs the number of contractors. The increased demand sets the scene for unscrupulous business and phony contractors.

Experts say it’s not ‘if’ unlicensed workers will show up, but ‘when.’

Chip Carden, Executive Director of the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board says the unlicensed construction crews often follow storm damage, looking to make good on a homeowner’s bad fate.

“You have these big events, they just come in here like flies,” Carden said.

It’s a crime in Alabama to work in roofing without a specific license. Carden’s team of investigators has been combing over the damage areas working to educate homeowners. Despite their efforts, attempts at enforcement have had little effect on detracting unlicensed workers.

Over the last three years the Alabama Home Builder’s Licensure Board has opened 439 files on unlicensed contractors, issued 217 administrative resolutions and executed 79 warrants. Some of those cases were reported in the Birmingham area.

“I’ve got several guys I may have six or eight files on,” Carden said of a group of repeat offenders.

A few simple questions can save you cash and heartburn.

“First thing right out of the chute, ask to see the card,” Carden added.

Alabama roofers are required to carry a credit card size license. Carden says look for the company name, license number and the current year.

Home Builders Licensure Board
Home Builders Licensure Board(Home Builders Licensure Board)
Home Builders Licensure Board
Home Builders Licensure Board(Home Builders Licensure Board)

“That doesn’t mean you might not have a bad experience even if it is a licensee, but that that gets you access to the Consumer Recovery Fund,” he explained.

It’s also important to note repairs could take time.

“Right now is a horrible time to try to get quotes from people because they are so busy,” admitted Carden. “We’ve had Hurricane Sally which is causing shortages in shingles, suppliers and contractors. COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on our supply chains.”

Homeowners need to be aware of possible contractor fraud
Homeowners need to be aware of possible contractor fraud(WBRC)

Homeowners may also need to prepare for sticker shock.

“Lumber prices are sky high,” he explained. “They’re at historic highs right now. A sheet of OSB [construction-grade plywood] which is a staple of new construction was $15 dollars a sheet a year ago, right now it’s approaching $40 dollars.”

For an extra layer or protection, Carden encourages homeowners to execute a contract with their builder and be prepared to update that document with changes as needed.

“Don’t do those big down payments, that’s awful.” Carden advises. “That person may take your money for that big down payment and he’s off in Tennessee somewhere and we never see him again.”

If the builder says he needs the large sum of cash to order supplies, Carden says you can order the supplies and have it delivered to your job site.

“That way you know you didn’t get ripped off because those materials are sitting in the yard.”

The fraudulent work is so rampant following storms, lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would make unlicensed work a felony in a declared disaster area.

Before hiring a contractor:

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