A typical home repair scam involves a person or company going door-to-door soliciting services for home repairs. They will usually ask for full payment up front, but then they will “disappear” without beginning or completing the project.
Home repair scams can involve promises for a wide range of services such as painting, fixing pipes or installing new fixtures. Home repair scams are also common for new homes, especially those that are “bare” and need further installations or landscaping on the property.
Some examples of conduct commonly associated with home repair scams include:
- Leaving work completely undone or partially undone
- Using substandard materials
- Completing the job in a haphazard manner or with very poor quality
- Leaving excess debris on the property or using the property as a dumping site
- Damaging property in the process of repair, then asking for more payment for additional services
- Doing work in a manner that does not conform to zoning requirements
- Suggesting that you borrow money from a lender that they know
Working with a valid contract is probably the single most important thing you can do to avoid being a victim of a home repair scam. Before you agree to pay for any work, you should present a contract to the person or company that outlines all the details of the project.
The contract should address prices, start and completion dates, and the contact information of all the parties involved. You should have the contract signed and dated before any work begins and before you render any payments. A lawyer can help you with drafting and reviewing the contract.
There are many other steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of home repair scams. Some of these include:
- Avoid paying full amounts up-front for services
- Be wary of persons or companies who go door-to-door soliciting home repair services
- Double check to make sure their operating license is valid and current
- Avoid having any repairs done while you are away (i.e., while on vacation)
- Have a lawyer draft and/or review the service contract
- Try to make sure you are working with a person who has a valid address or is connected to a more established company
Persons and companies that are not listed in the phone book or directory may also be suspect- part of the problem is that many scam artists tend to “disappear” once they are paid. Always obtain their contact information and check to see that they have a valid address.
If you have been the victim of a home repair scam, you may be able to recover losses by filing a civil lawsuit in court. Again, a contract can provide the single most powerful piece of evidence during trial. You should also keep receipts, work orders, and transcripts involved in the project.
You may also wish to keep a journal or log of the various phone calls and e-mail correspondences between you and the home repair company. Include dates and times for future reference. Photographs and video footage of the work progress will also be extremely helpful.
Lastly, you should be aware that it is common for the victim of a scam to come under question as well when determining liability. Many home repair scams sometimes require the cooperation of the property owner, especially if the scam involves some sort of insurance fraud. The evidence above can also provide proof that you are not “part of” or “participating in” the home repair scam.
If you believe that you have been the victim of a home repair scam, a real estate lawyer can help you recover your losses in a court of law. Property and zoning laws are different in each state, so you may need expert advice if a lawsuit is necessary. Also, you may wish to contact a lawyer before work begins, so that they can draft and review the contract for you.