WICKLIFFE, Ohio — Keith Rowan of Wickliffe thought he was on his way toward some satisfying and significant home improvements, instead, he’s been left with an unfinished mess and plenty of financial heartaches.
Rowan, who is a single parent trying to raise his young son, told News 5 he paid a Mentor contractor more than $45,000 in upfront money for a new back deck, new house siding, garage renovations and front porch improvements back in August of 2022. But, Rowan said the contractor started big delays in progress on the job last fall, leaving him with an unfinished deck, hazardous unsecured wiring, a partially completed garage roof and construction debris scattered in his driveway.
Rowan said numerous calls to the contractor have failed to produce any more progress on the job.
“Things were progressing and suddenly everything just stopped,” Rowan said. I’ve called many times and I’m getting a different excuse each time, oh my truck jackknifed on the highway, this happened, that happened.”
Rowan said the failed home improvement job has also left him with considerable financial hardship, so he’s set up a GoFundMe account to try and support his massive losses.
“And now it’s just like we’re struggling to make ends meet now because I had to take a loan for these things, I just didn’t have the money,” Rowan said. “I have spoken to family members of his saying there is a line of people behind me that he’s done the exact same thing to.”
Cleveland Better Business Bureau President Sue McConnell told News 5 it’s imperative consumers get a written contract and review it thoroughly before they sign up for a home improvement job and issue any money, something Rowan did not do.
“Make sure the contract explains exactly what’s going to be done, any kind of guarantees given on the work and for how long,” McConnell said. “You want to pay in steps as the job is getting completed, make sure you get a receipt for any payments that you give.”
McConnell said it’s crucial to check a contractor’s references before they start work at your property.
“Compare the cost, but also the scope of the job, the kind of warranties given, the cheapest price isn’t always the best deal,” McConnell said. “They should be able to show you current insurance coverage as well as current workers comp coverage in the event any of their workers are injured while doing the job.”
Michelle Rafeld, Assistant Director of the Fraud & Enforcement Division with the Ohio Department of Insurance told News 5 consumers should call a contractor’s insurance provider to verify current coverage, and contact their home insurance provider if they are looking to repair storm-related damage.
“Find out what your benefits are and ask if they can send one their adjusters out so they can take a look, document if you’ve had damage or not and work with you in terms of what you need in terms of repairs,” Rafeld said. “We have actually prosecuted contractors for providing a false certificate of insurance to a consumer.”
Rafeld said homeowners should also keep watch on contractors who are doing a roof inspection in search of storm-related damage.
“We’ve got some contractors out there who will commit fraud by damaging people’s homes,” Rafeld said. “So we always try to warn consumers to never have a contractor get on your roof and then the consumer goes back in their home. It’s in their best interest to stand back and watch what the contractor does, some of them try to simulate wind damage and will pull up shingles.”
In response to Contractor Fraud Awareness Week, May 22-26, the Ohio Department of Insurance issued ten things you can do to avoid contractor fraud:
- Contact your insurance company to file a claim before hiring a contractor. The company will verify the repairs that need to be made.
- Make sure the contractor you hire is legitimate. Search for the individual and/or company online and read reviews. Find out if there are complaints against the contractor with the Better Business Bureau and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Ask for references.
- Know the warning signs of a bad business. A reputable business will not pressure you to make a quick decision, and it won’t ask you to pay the entire amount upfront.
- Don’t pay in full upfront. Pay in installments with a check or credit card to leave a record of your payments. Get an invoice and a receipt.
- Get an estimate from at least three different contractors. A lower estimate doesn’t mean it’s the best deal. Make sure the quotes include the same things, and check references.
- Learn the difference between “licensed” and “registered.” A licensed contractor has passed exams and met other requirements to show that they are competent. A registered contractor has provided contact information to a government authority. Contact the Ohio Department of Commerce and the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office for information.
- Be cautious about signing an assignment of benefits. This is an agreement a policyholder signs that allows a third party, such as a contractor, to act on behalf of the policyholder. The agreement allows direct payment from the insurance company.
- Get a written contract. The contract should include every task and repair the contractor plans to make. It should also include start/finish dates and prices for repairs and materials. Don’t sign a blank contract.
- Obtain the contractor’s essential business information. Before making a hire, get:
- The contractor’s identification with their name and business name.
- A copy of the contractor’s business license. Make sure it’s not expired.
- A copy of the contractor’s proof of liability insurance. Make sure it shows the person or company’s name, phone number, and policy number. Call the insurance company to verify the coverage.
- A copy of the contractor’s proof of workers’ compensation insurance.
- Educate yourself about the property damage recovery process and insurance. Visit insurance.ohio.gov for information.
Ohioans who believe they’ve been defrauded by a contractor or encouraged to fabricate an insurance claim should contact the Ohio Department of Insurance at 800-686-1527.
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