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Post-Disaster Home Repair Fraud Common, Preventable

For Immediate Release

CONTACT: N'ann Harp (703)416-0257
[email protected]

Homeowners can become easy targets for unscrupulous or fraudulent home repair contractors in the aftermath of a natural disaster like a hurricane, tornado, flood or fire, or manmade disasters, according to national homeowner and consumer advocate groups. These groups urge homeowners to be very cautious about making hiring decisions or signing contracts for remodeling or repair work, and to take advantage of national contractor-screening services that are available to protect their interests.

"Under the best of circumstances, homeowners tend to be too trusting when hiring contractors," says Jordan Clark, president of the Washington, D.C.-based homeowner advocacy organization, United Homeowners Association (UHA) After a disaster, Clark adds, "it only gets worse because scam artists know that homeowners are in a hurry to get their homes and lives back to normal." Owners become even less likely than usual to check a contractor's references or look very closely at the contracts they sign, Clark observes. "That insurance check is burning a hole in their pockets. But, owners should be more careful, not less, at a time like that," he cautions.

"The last thing you should do after a natural disaster is hire a contractor you don't know enough about," says N'ann Harp, president of Smart Consumer Services, a consumer education and assistance firm based in Crystal City, Virginia. "It's like begging to be struck by lightning - a second time!"

After a disaster, there are enormous pressures for a community to rebuild as quickly as possible. The community may not have enough local tradespeople to handle all the repairs. As a result, building code enforcement and municipal officials acknowledge that they sometimes allow temporary moratoriums on local licensing requirements and contractor qualifying procedures immediately following a natural disaster.

"In order to meet the tremendous demand for additional skilled labor, local officials may accept 'across-the-border' contractors from other jurisdictions, without many questions asked," says Harp. "Unfortunately, when licensing standards and normally enforced consumer protections are relaxed in that way, it opens the door for fraud and abuse."

Harp represents consumer interests as a member of the Disaster Mitigation and Response task group for the "Streamlining" project - a nationwide building regulatory reform effort organized by the National Conference of States on Building Codes & Standards

"Regulatory officials can be forced to make difficult, pragmatic decisions after a disaster. Through our involvement with the 'Streamlining' project, we hope to find better ways to protect consumers after a natural disaster and to educate homeowners now on the importance of taking steps to avoid being victimized by possible disreputable home repair contractors," Harp stated.

Smart Consumer Services provides a free How to Hire a Contractor checklist, as well as nationwide, low-cost Contractor Reference Checks and residential construction-related Contract Advocacy Reviews to homeowners, which are provided or have been endorsed by United Homeowners Association, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, ImproveNet and other organizations. The Reference Check reviews a remodeling contractor's track record with other customers and ensures it has credentials to be in business. The Contract Advocacy Review checks the proposed contract for completeness, accuracy and fairness to the consumer.

"We find that qualified contractors are often happy to deduct the modest amount of a Reference Check and Contract Review from their customer's bill, so the homeowner actually pays nothing for these protection services," notes Harp. "It's good for the contractor's business. It also improves trust and communication between the homeowner and remodeler."

For more information, go to Smart Consumer Services

Fax-Back Information available: (703)416-0258




© 2002 Smart Consumer Services. All Rights Reserved.
(www.smartconsumerservices.org)

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