Beware of the Crooked Contractor
Construction fraud flourishes in the wake of disaster. It is a fact, sad but true. Four years ago, Hurricane Sandy caused the deaths of 147 people in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. Twelve of those people were New Jersey residents. Over $30 billion in damages were reported at the time. Sadly, all of this simply reeked of opportunity for shady contractors. Sandy-related construction fraud is almost a practice area for NJ consumer law attorneys. More than ever, anyone planning on hiring a contractor for any reason must exercise caution.
Five Sins of a Crooked Contractor
If you have hired a contractor and you even suspect one or more of the above to be true, contact this office and make an appointment immediately. These matters are time-sensitive and the proof required for proving contractor fraud is best investigated by a consumer law attorney.
If you have not yet hired a contractor, please take notice of the warning signs below and avoid construction scams all together.
Six Warning Signs of Construction Fraud
Obviously, the best-case scenario is to never get involved with a crooked contractor in the first place. Most likely, the above "sins" will be noticed too late. Here are six warning signs:
Take your time. Do not allow a contractor to use scare tactics or pressure you into anything. Contractors are more than capable of discussing repairs with you and pointing out defects without resorting to gloom and doom. For example, your roof might develop leaks over time due to some neglect. If the contractor resorts to alarming claims like “The roof is going to cave any second!” a red flag should pop up right, then and there. A shady contractor may use such tactics to get you to sign off on extras that you don not need.
Not only should you take your time, but true professionals should as well. If a contractor pressures you to sign with them to prevent you from shopping around, that does not show much confidence in one’s ability, does it? A quote should be valid for a specific period of time. An immediate decision is not necessary. Quotes should be detailed, well-written documents.
2. No identification.
Legitimacy comes with documentation. Presentation and first impressions still make a world of difference. A legitimate contractor will present a business card, regardless of the contractor having a website or social media account. A forthcoming contractor will be able to provide you with a license and certificate of insurance. That insurance should include both liability and worker’s compensation. The bottom line is that shady contractors disappear. They vanish into thin air, which proves to be a pretty difficult place to locate someone if you need to hold them accountable for shoddy construction work.
3. Refusal to provide referrals.
What reputable businessperson is not happy to share the names of satisfied customers? As long they obtained permission, there is no justification for refusal to provide referrals. Once referrals are provided, however, be diligent and follow-up. Just as much as you do not want a contractor to vanish, you need to be sure the contractor “exists” in the first place.
4. “Happened to be in the neighborhood.”
This phrase is always welcome when a friend or family member visits. If a contractor says it, this is another red flag. The reason this line is a warning sign tends to be related to the rest of the common claims that accompanies it. A contractor may claim to have done work "in the neighborhood." That may be the case, but you will still want to verify this. It is no different than a referral, so there is no reason to take it at face value. The other common claim contractors might make is that they have “leftover” material from the job and wish to “get rid of it” by doing whatever job they are pitching you on. No legitimate contractor plans a job so poorly that there are enough materials left over to do another job, much less the precise materials needed to do it. Furthermore, a legitimate contractor does not dispose of excess materials in this way.
5. Up-front payment.
If the work has not been done and you do not see any materials, hold onto your money. Any job large enough to require an up-front commitment will come with a proper contract after you have already checked out the contractor and the contractor's references. Even then, you should only pay a percentage or down payment.
6. Under the table deals.
One tends to go hand in hand with the other. A disreputable contractor pressuring you to make an up-front payment may very well be asking for cash. Payment that does not involve a signature may as well be you signing away the cost of the repair without seeing a day’s work. Cash means no written guarantee and no receipt. With no paper record, even a lawyer’s hands are pretty much tied. By the way, if the contractor asks you to write checks directly to him for supplies, you may as well just hand him cash. Do not count on seeing those supplies either.
If you associated any of the above advice with common sense, you would not be wrong. We all hope that our common sense kicks in precisely when we need it most, every single time. That is not always the case. Common sense is one of countless casualties for the victims of a force of nature like Hurricane Sandy. The grief alone tends to cancel out much our capacity for clear thinking. This is precisely what predators count on. What they do not anticipate is the level of commitment an attorney is willing to make, to seek justice for such victims. If you feel that you may be the victim of construction fraud, please make an appointment today with this office for a free initial consultation.
Please be advised that this blog is for informational purposes only, is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
The Law Office of H. Benjamin Sharlin LLC
is owned and operated by H. Benjamin Sharlin and serves all of Mercer County, New Jersey and the surrounding areas. Mr. Sharlin is a bilingual Spanish-speaking attorney who vigorously represents the interests of all his clients.
Call (609) 585-0606 or click the button below to schedule an appointment