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Insurance Institute and Area Better Business Bureaus issue “stormchaser” warnings
August 12, 2011
Spring and summer storms, some including damaging wind and hail, are attracting more than just routine home repairs in northeast Ohio. The Ohio Insurance Institute (OII) is joining forces with the Better Business Bureaus of Akron and Canton to warn area residents of door-to-door roofer solicitors urging homeowners to sign contracts for repairs that may not be covered by insurance.
    “Disasters have been known to attract out-of-state “stormchasers” who offer quick-fix repairs for cash or leaving customers with shoddy or incomplete work. But now we’re hearing of at least one local roofing contractor who’s canvassing Canton and Akron area neighborhoods offering to inspect and repair roofs, often insisting homeowners sign contracts,” said Daniel J. Kelso, OII president. “The problem is that homeowners may be forced into repairs before they’ve even filed an insurance claim. Since they’ve signed contracts, they may be responsible to honor them without fully understanding their potential liability.”
    Akron Better Business Bureau (BBB) President Vic Wlaszyn adds, “Our experience shows that some of these contractors are not accredited by the local BBB and lack substantial work references. Some fail to carry Ohio Workers Comp insurance or proper licensing. Should one of these workers injure themselves while working on your home, you may be liable for covering their medical bills and additional legal action taken by the injured party.”
    OII also warns homeowners about signing any repair contracts prior to contacting their insurance company or agent to guide them through the claims process.
    “There are cases where outside contractors illegally cross the line by stepping into the role of public insurance adjusters, which requires licensing through the Ohio Department of Insurance,” he explains. “This could lead to the homeowner paying more of the repairs than originally anticipated.”
    Frank Cilona, President of the Canton Better Business Bureau, also cautions homeowners about false repair promises.
    “Your repairs may not necessarily equate to a new roof or complete home re-siding as you may be lead to believe,” he said. “There are times when damage is due to maintenance issues and not storms which means you’re responsible for repairs, not your insurer. If you have a legitimate claim, we advise to never sign a contract without contacting your insurance company first. You may end up losing your right to representation along with paying for repairs out of pocket.”
        Both Better Business Bureau leaders caution local area contractors about selling their company name to outside contractors. Potential future claims regarding incomplete repair or poor workmanship against the out-of-area company ultimately become the responsibility of the local firm, and could end up affecting the company’s reputation and bottom line.
        OII adds that the homeowner ultimately decides who completes their repairs and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. Local BBBs and insurers are ideal sources for reputable and reliable contractor leads, along with referrals from families and friends.
       To protect against the possibility of dishonest contractors, the organizations offer the following tips:
•  Never feel forced or coerced into signing a contract. Some may be incomplete which could be altered upon signing.
•  Don’t allow a contractor to serve as a negotiator with your insurer. Should you allow a contractor to negotiate on your behalf, the claim may be over-inflated or the damage may be nonexistent. Insurers aren’t obligated to cover false or over-inflated claims.
•  Be wary of door-to-door solicitations, fliers or telemarketing calls regarding repair work. The homeowner should take the lead role in selecting contractors to handle repairs. Don’t be guided by potentially false or fraudulent marketing tactics that often arise following a local wind or hail storm.
•  Ask for references and check them. The Better Business Bureaus of Akron and Canton can serve as additional points of reference with online guides to reputable local businesses for repair services.
•  Watch for padded repair estimates. This is especially true if the repair estimator asks you for the amount of your homeowners insurance deductible. There is no such thing as a “free deductible.” Often these end up being built into the repair estimate.
•  Obtain all information in writing including cost, work to be completed and payment schedules. Make sure that the roofing materials used in the estimate are the same as the ones used in repairs.
•  Obtain more than one estimate. Don’t be bullied into signing the first contract that’s presented to you.
•  Ask for the contractor’s drivers license and insurance credentials. Keep a record of the license along with a vehicle description and license plate number. Some contractors come into disaster areas from out of state. Make sure they’re licensed or bonded.
•  Don’t pay for the repairs or sign a certificate of completion until all work has been completed.
•  Don’t be tempted to conspire in a fraudulent insurance claim. Disasters often heighten the opportunity for insurance fraud and abuse. Also, be aware that insurance fraud is a felony and coverage may be voided if policyholder intentional misrepresentation is discovered.
     Download these and other home repair tips at: http://www.ohioinsurance.org/pdf/Repair_tips_and_adjuster_info.pdf