Hurricane season is fast approaching and we’re in the midst of tornado season. Let’s also remember that with warmer weather we tend to have other storms that could wreck havoc on homes and properties.
Homeowners and property owners can be victimized by these storms yet a second time by shady contractors. These storm chasers tend to be unlicensed and incompetent. They perform shoddy repairs, disappear before finishing the job, and sometimes even causing more damage to a home to inflate their fees.
States, insurers and consumer groups are clamoring to crack down on these storm chasers. And, recent legislative action shows that growing numbers of state lawmakers are getting the message.
States vary widely in how they regulate and license contractors such as roofers to repair homes. But even the most stringent rules may not protect a homeowner from being required to pay for substandard repair, because a contract is a contract. Unless state laws explicitly allow homeowners to rescind or cancel a contract, homeowners may be on the hook for the payment whether the insurer is willing to pay for the repair or denies the claim.
So, how do we help victimized homeowners whose property is damaged by a tornado, hurricane or hail storm?
First, let’s agree that most contractors are upright and honest. But we need partnerships among organizations to get the message out to consumers about the bad apples. And those messages must get out before storms hit. It’s basic consumer advice: how to recognize the warning signs of a shady contractor, and how to properly vet the contractor before signing on the dotted line.
After a storm hits, homeowners are in shock and want to put their live back to normal as quickly as possible. They can be vulnerable a shady contractors who seem helpful and decent, and offer a safe lifeline during a highly stressful time. It’s usually too late to try to educate consumers in these chaotic conditions.
These homeowners might easily buy into a shady contractor’s sales pitch without checking whether he’s properly licensed or has a history of complaints. The contractor may not even have a business card or company name.
So consumer groups, insurers, state insurance regulators, attorneys general, Better Business Bureaus and other viable groups must work on PR campaigns with local and state media to get a message out early and often before storms hit.
State insurance regulators, AGs and insurance organizations in numerous states do send out consumer alerts. Facebook, Twitter and other social outlets also are deployed. But, that is only part of our job.
We also need enact state laws that protect consumers from dishonest contractors.
More lawmakers have decided this is the year to send the message that the crooks must go.
The Coalition has identified several states that have bills, with varying degrees of promise. Most measures have two things in common: First, consumers can cancel a signed contract if their insurer denies the claim for fraud or unneeded repairs. Second, contracts also must clearly display the cancelation right. Here’s the action so far:
- Indiana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kentucky have enacted laws;
- An Iowa bill has passed both chambers. Consumers could cancel a contract if the contractor uses inducements to convince the consumer to sign, or acts as an intermediary with the consumer’s insurer (i.e., illegally acting as an adjuster). The latest version also would protect the AG’s right to prosecute shady contractors,
- Tennessee is debating bills in both chambers;
- A Colorado bill has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House.
We applaud states that have enacted laws, and encourage legislators in states with active bills to pass them as soon as possible. Consumers shouldn’t pay a potentially terrible price for a contract that a shady contractor tricked them into signing.
For consumers, this is protection. For insurers, this is good business sense.
About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.