Storm Damage Raises Risk of Fraud
DPOR Warns Consumers: Beware of Unlicensed Contractors
The need for repairs after storm damage can make consumers vulnerable to unscrupulous contractors who may exploit the situation. Virginia's Board for Contractors cautions the public to be wary of unlicensed contractors and home repair scam artists after any severe weather.
Consumers can best protect themselves by checking for a valid contractor’s license, getting multiple estimates, insisting on a detailed written contract, and never paying in full up front. This becomes even more important after emergencies if you can't get multiple estimates or check references as thoroughly.
Virginia law requires a state license-–not just a local business license-–for most contracting work or bids over $1,000. A license is generally not required just for tree trimming; stump-grinding or other below-grade, land-disturbing work usually triggers the need for licensure.
Consumers have very little recourse against unlicensed contractors. The Board for Contractors offers consumer resources, including the comprehensive guide What You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor, available for free download.
Before hiring a contractor, consumers should observe the following Top Ten Tips (download PDF):
- Hire only licensed contractors--qualified to do your job (right class, right specialty).
- Check for a valid contractor license using License Lookup or by calling (804) 367-8511.
- Check references and review past work.
- Get at least three estimates whenever possible.
- Insist on a written contract and do not sign anything until you understand the terms.
- Limit your deposit. Pay 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever amount is less. (Unless the job requires custom-made items/special orders, then limit to 30% of the total value of the contract.)
- Do not let payments get ahead of the work.
- Don't pay 100% of the bill until the work is 100% complete and you are satisfied with the job.
- Do not pay cash.
- Keep records of all payments and documents relating to your project (change orders, warranties, etc.).
- High-pressure or scare tactics (“offer good today only”)
- Over-friendly sales pitches
- “Material left-over”
- Escalating prices
- Deals that sound too good to be true