Going through a remodel or upgrading your home is kind of like having surgery. At some point, you have to hand the controls over to someone else and have faith that they know what they're doing. They are, after all, the experts.
Such is the case with hiring contractors. You've likely done your due diligence, checking their profiles with both the Better Business Bureau and contractor's license boards in your state. You ask for references and take the time to check them. Or perhaps you're met with what appears to be a reasonable offer by a pleasant enough, professional-looking person.
And as recommended by agencies like California Attorney General's Office, you may have even asked for a business statement describing the daily practices of the company, including: general information on the company, such as the number of years in business; all of their locations; the owners of the company; and a description of the organizational structure of the business. You may have also asked. the company what licenses they had to obtain and who to contact to verify their licenses, as well as what precautions the company has taken to verify that all of their actions are legal within their state.
So what happens if you get scammed or get left with a shoddy job?
That may have been the question going through 81-year-old John Goodwin's mind when he was scammed. The Michigan man was approached at home by a contractor who said he had just finished some local road work and had extra asphalt to do driveways, according to a July 8 Times Herald article.
The company promised Goodwin a 3-inch-thick coat in the 1,100-square foot area for $2,200. What Goodwin ended up with was a rolling, crooked, thinning layer of asphalt that resembled nothing like the professional job his neighbor got from a local company.
Sometimes law enforcement steps in, as was the case in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., when an elderly woman told police she paid a large sum of money to a man who told her he would replace some rotten boards on the side of her house, as reported July 15 in the Daily Herald.
Law enforcement's investigation revealed there were no rotten boards on the house. Furthermore, the worker was found with just a few rusty tools in his carpentry box. He was arrested and charged with obtaining property by false pretense.
To help you if you're scammed like those two unsuspecting homeowners, there are at least three entities you can turn to, including:
The first is your state attorney general. As an example, the California Attorney General solicits and maintains consumer complaints from the public regarding companies doing business in the state. The Attorney General works to protect consumers through the Consumer Law Section of the California Department of Justice and responds to consumer complaints through the Public Inquiry Unit.
The Consumer Law Section prosecutes scam artists and fights deceptive trade practices that range from the use of misleading national sweepstakes mailers to undelivered vacation promises by sellers of travel. The Public Inquiry Unit responds to consumer inquiries and serves as a central clearinghouse for consumer complaints sent to the California Department of Justice.
Second is the Better Business Bureau system, which extends to over 98 percent of the United States, coast-to-coast, and in Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico. The BBB handles the following complaints involving marketplace activities:
- Misleading advertising
- Improper selling practices
- Non-delivery of goods or services
- Unhonored guarantees or warranty
- Unsatisfactory service
- Credit/billing problems
- Unfulfilled contracts
The BBB has an online complaint system and works to facilitate communication between the company and the consumer to help both sides come to a satisfactory resolution to the complaint. In many cases, dispute resolution (including mediation and arbitration) may be available to help resolve the dispute.
Thirdly, you can usually turn to your state license board.
In California, contractors are licensed and regulated by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB, www.cslb.ca.gov/consumers), which handles complaints about fraud, misrepresentation, failing to complete contracted work, failing to maintain required records, working without proper licensing, and withholding money from subcontractors.
The CSLB recommends filing a complaint in writing. Every complaint filed with the CSLB against a licensed contractor is logged, reviewed, and assigned to a staff person for handling based on the nature of the complaint as described in the complaint form.
Because of resource constraints, CSLB prioritizes complaints based on the order of receipt, the nature and seriousness of the allegations, the volume of work, and the budget/staffing situation. In most cases CSLB staff will attempt to negotiate a settlement as soon as possible.
According to the CSLB, if your primary goal is to gain restitution, you should contact an attorney or the small claims court. Depending on the circumstances, the complaint may be referred to one of the Board's arbitration programs.
In California, violations of the law by a licensed contractor may result in a citation or formal charges against the contractor that could lead to suspension or revocation of the contractor's license.