Storm victims: Beware of unscrupulous ‘storm chasers’

Storm victims: Beware of unscrupulous ‘storm chasers’

LAKEWOOD, OH (WOIO) - The City of Lakewood reminds residents who are victims of storms to be extremely cautious before entering into any agreements with or making payments to "storm chasers" — aggressive contractors who are often the first on the scene of any damaged property after bad weather.

Storm chasers often come from outside Ohio to sell roofing, tree work, fence, masonry and carpentry services, mostly door-to-door, to homeowners affected by storms.

"Storm chasers take advantage of homeowners when they're at their most vulnerable," said Dru Siley, the city's Assistant Director of Public Safety who heads the division responsible for construction permitting and inspections.

The perils associated with storm chasers

In some cases, homeowners pay up front for a small amount of repair work to be done, only later to be informed they owe exorbitant amounts of money for the work actually performed.

Door-to-door solicitors may not do good work, may not be licensed and may not be around afterward to complete or correct work once the homeowner realizes repairs weren't done properly.

"Residents must be very careful to avoid becoming victims of bad deals, consumer fraud or criminal conduct," Siley said.

Every contractor who works in Lakewood must be registered and insured.  The city encourages consumers to research every business with the city's Division of Housing and Building before making any payments.

The names and contact information for all registered contractors may be found  at  Residents may also call (216) 529-6270 to verify a contractor is registered.

How to protect yourself

Homeowners should check with the Ohio Secretary of State to determine whether a business is registered in Ohio.  Unregistered businesses are not permitted to operate in Ohio, and may often be fly-by-night scam artists.

Additional tips for dealing with contractors after experiencing storm damage:

  • Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Keep copies of receipts for emergency repairs for reimbursement later.
  • Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid acting in haste. Don't be pressured into signing a long-term contract. Make temporary, less expensive repairs if necessary.
  • Take time to shop around for contractors, get competitive bids, and check out the contractor's history using resources like the Ohio Attorney General and the Better Business Bureau.  LakewoodAlive, a local non-profit that assists homeowners on housing issues, also maintains a contractor referral list on its website.
  • Get everything in writing. Prepare a written agreement with anyone you hire that outlines the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Review it carefully before signing. Vague clauses such as "repair siding" are invitations for abuse.
  • Make sure every written agreement contains a three-day right to cancel clause, in most cases a requirement in Ohio.  This ensures you can think on any contract before you're bound by it.
  • Never pay the full amount of repairs in advance. A third of the contract price is a standard down payment. Pay with a credit card if possible; credit cards may offer you more protection if the work is not completed as specified.

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