The Texas Legislature could create a law requiring contractors to be licensed before they’re allowed to pick up a hammer in the state as a means of protecting property owners from unscrupulous scammers.
Such a move also would be in line with requirements that other types of skilled labor — plumbers, cosmetologists and electricians are good examples — show aptitude at the profession.
Those licenses, however, do not grade a person’s integrity. A highly skilled electrician can just as easily pocket a down payment and disappear as someone just pretending to be an electrician.
The latter inundate areas after a disaster like storm debris, knocking on doors, promising quick, inexpensive repairs and demanding money upfront to get started. Desperate people write checks or pull money out of the mattress, thinking they are making a smart decision.
They are not. Bad times often lead to bad choices, and there is no shortage of people willing to take advantage of the suffering.
That’s why every storm preparedness kit should contain a checklist provided by the Texas Department of Insurance spelling out exactly what persons should ask, expect and verify. Without that information, especially in a traumatized state, the property owner bears some of the responsibility for being scammed.
Many of the items on the checklist are common sense, such as getting referrals from people you trust and checking references; don’t jump at the first contractor who knocks on the door; and not turning over all the available money for the work — or even more than 10 percent of it — before the project starts.
The full list can be found attached to this editorial at thefacts.com.
Most contractors are reputable, and weeding out those who are not is a process that happens on front porches and at kitchen tables.
“It’s still up to the consumer himself,” said Mark Villarreal of the Texas Department of Insurance. “Use locally known contractors to help make sure you don’t get just anybody.”
Contractor scams are not strong-armed robbery, where a person is holding a gun or knife demanding money be turned over. They are a crime of opportunity, like a thief looking for unlocked car doors to steal the laptop and purse the owner carelessly left inside overnight.
Property owners must protect themselves from such thieves. A government-issued piece of paper won’t do the job for them.