Kate Ryan, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Downed trees. Damaged decks. More than a week after derecho, most are still assessing the damage, and want it cleaned up - fast.
But, consumer advocates say take your time - avoid the guy in the truck who knocks on the door and says he can do everything from taking a chainsaw to your tree and repairing your roof.
Eric Friedman, director of Montgomery County's Office of Consumer Protection, explains that anyone doing tree removal has to be licensed with Maryland's Department of Natural Resources Forestry Division.
To know if prices are fair, Friedman says it's best to get estimates. Then, pay only one-third of the total cost as the deposit. It's against Maryland law for a contractor to demand any more than that.
Another way to stay protected is to pay using a credit card.
"The biggest problem that we see is when a consumer has paid money for a service and then the contractor just disappears."
Friedman says if a contractor demands cash only, that's a red flag.
"You want to have some recourse," he says.
To do that, make sure the contractor is licensed with the Maryland Home Improvement Commission.
"A lot of times consumers will file a complaint and all they know is the first name of the contractor. They don't even have an address, a phone number, a license plate, nothing."
Friedman says immediately after the storm, teams of investigators from his office went to areas hardest-hit by the storms to offer tips on avoiding scams:
- For tree service or removal, check to see if the business is a licensed tree expert with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Forestry Division at (410) 260-8521. If a licensed company is used, there is a complaint process through the Department of Natural Resources. If an unlicensed company is used, it is often impossible to track down the company, particularly if they have been paid in advance. In addition, consumers should ask to see written verification of the company's insurance and workers compensation coverage.
- Check the contractors' complaint records with the Office of Consumer Protection at (240) 777-3636 and the Better Business Bureau at 202-393-8000, and with the MHIC and DNR.
(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)