Thursday, May 28, 2015
Texas bills target crooked roofers after Dallas area's hail horror stories
AUSTIN — Several weeks after signing a contract to get her roof replaced for $25,000 last summer, Mary Jane Pierson of Fort Worth started to worry she was getting scammed.
Her repeated phone calls to the roofing contractor weren’t returned or she was offered a litany of excuses about why the job wasn’t getting done: the company’s office flooded, the owner’s wife was in the hospital, shipment of the shingles had been delayed.
“I knew there was a serious problem,” she said, recalling the change in behavior of the roofer, whose initial friendly demeanor before he secured the contract — and a check for $14,000 — was gone.
Pierson, whose $200,000 brick home is still waiting for a new roof, said the contractor originally came knocking on her door — as did several others — last spring after a massive hailstorm in North Texas. He was very helpful and offered to get her insurance claim moving — so she agreed to sign a contract.
“Everything looked on the up and up. So I gave him the first check from the insurance company for $14,000. I now know I shouldn’t have done that,” she said.
Pierson plans to tell her story later this month in Austin when lawmakers consider bills that would impose new state requirements on roofing contractors for the first time. Currently, roofers are not required to be licensed or registered by the state.
Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, is sponsoring one measure aimed at protecting homeowners from dishonest roofers and roofing companies through state licensing of those businesses. A backup proposal by Carona calls for registration and oversight of roofers by the Texas Department of Insurance.
“I’m generally not in favor of a large amount of licensing of any of the occupations, but where roofing is concerned there is such a long history of abuse of consumers, particularly during periods after storms or natural disasters,” he said.
“Texas needs to put some safeguards in place to ensure that the people who provide new roofs are financially sound, meet the appropriate building codes and honor their warranties.”
Some in the roofing industry, especially smaller outfits, have complained that the proposals might prevent contractors from starting their businesses and increase costs to consumers. Others have praised legislators for trying to help to weed out abusers who’ve preyed on homeowners.
Roofers after a storm
Carona said his office regularly hears from constituents who have lost several thousands of dollars in scams by unregulated roofers.
Karen Fox, executive director of the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association, said the pattern of fraud is similar in a majority of cases.
“Within 12 hours of a storm, an area can be blanketed with roofers, many from other states. After making contact with the homeowner and offering a lower price, they ask for a down payment and say they will come back after buying the shingles. Then, they never come back,” she said.
“Homeowners get taken advantage of all the time. It’s a big problem in North Texas.”
Mike Crosby of Crosby Roofing in Dallas agreed the problem is widespread.
“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve run into who had to pay for a new roof out of their pocket after a roofer took their money and disappeared,” he said.
A major reason homeowners in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are targeted is that they live in what many consider to be the hail capital of the nation.
Just last year, more than 40,000 homes and businesses were damaged by two massive storm systems that struck the area, requiring roof replacements totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Unlike plumbers, electricians or even barbers, anyone can place a sign on their truck calling themselves a roofing contractor,” said Mark Hanna of the Insurance Council of Texas. “The result can be shoddy work, no work or outright insurance fraud.”
Those practices, which have become more commonplace, have made many homeowners leery of dealing with roofing companies — a situation that Hanna says points to the need for regulation of roofers.
He cited a council survey of registered voters last November, which indicated that more than four out of five Texans want roofing contractors to be licensed by the state.
Contractor went to Hawaii
Darrin Tatum, who lives on Lake Texoma near Pottsboro, is among those who strongly support new regulation of roofers, particularly after his own experience getting the roof on his home replaced after a hailstorm in 2011.
His roofer, who had placed yard signs in the neighborhood after the hailstorm, agreed to start work as soon as a contract was signed.
Tatum went on vacation for two weeks and returned to find nothing had been done. He couldn’t reach the roofer’s company and eventually learned he was vacationing in Hawaii with his wife.
“He was a shyster, big time,” said Tatum, who finally got his roof replaced months later and then learned the roofing contractor never paid for the $4,000 worth of roofing shingles that were used on his home.
Tatum said some of his neighbors had similar experiences with the roofer, who is no longer working in the area.
Fox said many of the problems could be prevented if roofing contractors were regulated by the state, which could then take action against those who defraud homeowners or perform shoddy work.
“We want our industry to be as professional as any other industry,” she said, noting that leading roofing companies and contractors are backing the legislation by Carona and Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas. “It’s hard to compete against companies that cut corners and don’t have to meet building standards.”
She also pointed out that the state is losing sales tax revenue from the large number of roofers who don’t collect it.
Pierson, meanwhile, is looking forward to finally getting her roof replaced later this month. “I realize I am just one of many that this has happened to. But it will continue to happen to many more unless the state steps in and protects homeowners,” she said.
Possible changes at a glance
Bills have been filed in the House (HB 888) and Senate (SB 311) that would provide for state regulation of roofing contractors for the first time in Texas. The proposals are in response to widespread problems — including fraud and shoddy workmanship — mainly caused by smaller and out-of-state roofers. Among the possible changes:
Requiring state licensing of roofing businesses or registration and oversight of those businesses by Texas Department of Insurance.
Requiring standard form contracts for roofers and homeowners drafted by insurance department.
Requiring disclosure of roofer insurance coverage to consumers before contract is signed.
Prohibiting roofers from offering to cover an insured’s deductible as part of transaction.
Prohibiting roofers from adjusting insurance claims.
Creating a license holder database on Department of Insurance website for consumers to compare and examine roofing businesses.
Conducting background checks for roofers.
Exempting new homes and new commercial construction.
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