Avoiding unscrupulous contractors and storm chasers

Consumer advocates appear to make regular business chasing down unscrupulous trades people who take advantage of home owners.  Often the victims of these scammers are the most vulnerable members of communities. The victims can be those recently affected by localized flooding, wind storms, ice storms, or other disasters.  The media has identified a group of scam artists who follow these disasters and offer services to the home owners affected and then victimize them once more.  These scam artists take a deposit and disappear, or do sub-standard work at highly inflated prices.

There are a number of precautions a home owner can take in order to avoid being victimized by an unscrupulous contractor.

I was fortunate to be asked to provide key advice and tips to home and business owners on Alberta Primetime, you can watch that interview here.

However, when deciding to do work in your home, talk to your friends, coworkers, and family to see if they have a trusted contractor who they have worked with and whose work they are happy with.  That personal experience with a contractor is a better reference than any other that your contractor might provide.  Referral work is appreciated by contractors as well because the referral works both ways, your friends referral can also give the contractor comfort about your trustworthiness.  It’s not only home owners who fall prey to scammers.

It is always a good idea to check in with the Better Business Bureau when hiring a new contractor.  While not every business is registered with the Better Business Bureau, they do keep a record of complaints made against businesses.  The Better Business Bureau also keeps a record of whether complaints made against businesses were resolved or not.

One should expect to be provided with a written estimate for any work which is to be performed by a contractor or tradesperson.  On this estimate there should be a breakdown of what is included in the quote such as square feet of flooring and what type, linear feet of walls, number of doors, and types of electrical and plumbing fixtures.  Additionally, the quotation should have the contractor’s legal name and address.

Always expect to have a building permit for renovations done in your home.  While it may not be required for very small jobs, it does ensure that your contractor is licensed within your area.  Further, with a building permit, you can expect the city inspectors to sign off on electrical, plumbing, and gas work done in your home.  In the event of a fire related to the work being done, your insurance provider will not be able to use un-inspected work against you on a claim.

Speaking of insurance, as the owner of a building which is being worked upon, you should expect copies of builders liability insurance as well as with the Worker’s Compensation Board in your area.  If your chosen contractor does not have these insurance policies, any accidents which occur on your property will fall to you as the building owner.  As a commercial builder, most of my clients expect five million dollars in general liability coverage.

Finally, never provide a deposit for work or materials which you have not received.  Most contractors are restricted by the province not to take deposits from home owners.  Progress invoices should be received at agreed upon intervals and only paid once reviewed by the home owner.  A contractor who cannot afford to front the materials and labour of a project for the first month might just be a little too small to take on your project.  This is not to say that the contractor is dishonest, or not a quality tradesperson; just that they are only one crisis away from having their business fall apart around them.  It is better that should that happen, it is not your project that suffers for your trade’s crisis.

I would like to point out that the vast majority of construction projects are started and finished without incident.  There are, however, a small number of dishonest people who will take advantage of anyone they can.  By taking these few precautions, most of these bad contractors will disqualify themselves from your project.