With all the damage from Hurricane Sandy, many homeowners are dealing with damage, and cleanup. And this is the perfect opportunity for contractors to take advantage of consumers with price gouging and unfair contracts.
In order to avoid being taken, don’t be rushed into making a decision. You could be over charged, or a contractor could do more damage than good. Ignore the door-to-door appeals. Instead, consider someone you know or someone recommended by a friend or neighbor. If you hire someone, make sure the firm is licensed, bonded and insured.
Then, make sure to get a written estimate with an invoice listing the parts needed to make the repair.
Also, whatever you do, never pay in cash -- even if the contractor insists on it. Pay by credit card so that if the service is done incorrectly, you can contest the charge. Following natural disasters, you often see fly-by-night contractors and outrageous prices for items in demand.
Here’s the breakdown of gouging laws by state:
- In Virginia, there is a price-gouging law that kicks in after an official emergency has been declared (such as Hurricane Sandy). The law prohibits outrageous sale prices for things such as ice, water and even tree services. Virginia takes these complaints very seriously. The Anti-Price Gouging Act is enforced through the state's Consumer Protection Act.
- D.C. has an anti-gouging law in effect year round, not just during an emergency.
- Maryland does not have such a law, but you are encouraged to complain about price gouging through the office of consumer protection.
To report a shady contractor, you have several options depending on where you live.
- In Virginia, file a complaint with the Virginia Office of Consumer Protection.
- In Maryland, contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. To see if a Maryland contractor is licensed, the contractor’s complaint history or to file a complaint, call the Maryland Home Improvement Commission at 410-230-6309 or visit the MHIC website.
- In D.C., contact the Attorney General's Office.