Avoiding "Storm Chasers"
Throughout Wisconsin's spring and summer months, severe seasonal storms can cause extensive damage to homes and leave homeowners in a hurry to make repairs. Unfortunately, unscrupulous, transient contractors (aka "storm chasers") often seize these opportunities to defraud homeowners or perform haphazard repairs, leaving the area before anyone catches on (and the homeowner with few options). In 2013, the WBA supported the passage of 2013 Wisconsin Act 24, a law that seeks to cut down on the number of "storm chasers," protecting both consumers and reputable businesses.
Here is what the law does, how to file a complaint, and additional ways you can protect yourself.
Materials below developed courtesy of the Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP)
2013 Wisconsin Act 24
The 2013 Wisconsin Act 24 creates specific trade practice requirements that apply to a contract to repair or replace a roof system, or to perform any other exterior repair, replacement, construction, or reconstruction for a single-family or two-unit residential property. Under the Act, the penalty for violating these requirements is a forfeiture between $500 and $1000 for each violation. The highlights of the bill are as follows:
Contractors cannot promise to pay all or some of a property insurance deductible.
Contractors cannot represent or negotiate with the customer's insurer on behalf of the customer. The contractor can, with the consent of the customer, discuss damages and costs associated with the repairs with the insurer.
Before entering into a contract with a customer, the contractor must give the customer a questionnaire to determine whether the work requested is related to an insurance claim.
Customers have a right to cancel the contract within three business days of being notified that their insurer has denied all or any part of the claim for work. A contractor must return all money paid, including fees, within 10 days of receiving a cancellation (but is entitled to compensation for authorized emergency services). Contractors must notify customers of this right.
How to File a Complaint
For additional information, please visit the Consumer Protection Bureau. You can file a complaint by calling the DATCP Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for Homeowners with Storm Damage
Research trusted local contractors. You can locate a WBA member contractor in your area by finding your nearest local association's website, many of which provide member directories, or by checking out the WBA Buyers Guide. Also ask for references from friends, family members, and coworkers, and review the company's ratings online. The DATCP can also let you know if there have been any complaints against a particular business - you can call their Consumer Protection Hotline toll-free at 1-800-422-7128.
Ask contractors if they are subcontracting your job. If they are, find out who the subcontractor will be and check them out as well.
Get lien waivers from anyone you pay for home repairs. Lien waivers protect you if the person collecting the money does not pay the suppliers or workers.
Get a written contract with a start and completion date and warranty information. Also, make certain that the contract states exactly what work is to be done and what materials are to be used. Never rely on a verbal commitment
Have someone watch the work being done. Check with your local building inspector to see if the work requires a permit. Make sure an inspector visits the job site before you make a final payment.
Request a copy of the contractor's certificate of liability insurance.
Local door-to-door solicitation rules vary by municipality, and there are legitimate businesses that may knock on your door with a sales pitch. A good practice to follow is to request a business representative's permit to operate if your municipality has a door-to-door sales ordinance.