May , 2018

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Severe storms in the Chicago area can prompt many homeowners to search for a contractor to repair wind and water damage to their homes but a repair project could turn into a nightmare if a homeowner falls prey to a home repair scam. 

Con artists or so-called “Storm Chasers” may never start or complete the work.  Materials and workmanship may be grossly inferior to what was promised.  Undisclosed charges for permits, cost overruns, and other fees may significantly increase the total cost of the repairs.  The selection of a qualified and reliable home repair contractor can be a difficult task, and consumer complaints about contractors are among the most common situations reviewed by the Consumer Fraud Division of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.  

The State’s Attorney’s Office recommends the following precautions to avoid rip offs in dealings with home repair and remodeling contractors:     

*RECOMMENDATIONS AND REFERENCES:  Find a reliable contractor through recommendations from local utility companies, your insurance company, or through referrals from satisfied customers.  Ask each contractor for references and a written estimate.  Contact the references and ask them if they were satisfied with the home repairs provided by the contractor.   

*BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU CHECK:  Contact the Better Business Bureau on the web (www.chicago.bbb.org) and obtain a reliability report about a contractor.   A reliability report will disclose if anyone has filed a complaint against the contractor within the last three years and, most importantly, if the contractor has resolved the complaint to the satisfaction of the customer.   

  *LIEN WAIVERS:  Find out where the contractor will obtain his materials and whether the contractor plans to use any sub-contractors.  You should obtain a lien waiver from the contractor or sub-contractor at the same time that you make a payment for materials and work.  A lien waiver constitutes proof of payment and is a defense if the contractor or sub-contractor later files a mechanic’s lien against your property.     

*RELAX:  Be skeptical of any door-to-door salesperson who claims to have just completed a nearby job and offers you a great price because there are leftover materials.  Don’t feel pressured by a request for an immediate decision or by a statement that an offer is good “only if you act now.” 

Compare the estimates of a number of contractors before selecting the most attractive estimate and do not select a contractor solely on the basis of the lowest price or estimate.    

VERIFY LICENSES:  Illinois law does not require general contractors to be licensed or certified.  On the other hand, state law requires plumbing contractors and plumbers to be licensed by the Illinois Department of Public Health, Plumbing Program (217/524-0791 or www.idph.state.il.us) or the City of Chicago, and roofers must obtain a license from the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, Division of Professional Regulation (312/814-4500 or www.ildpr.com).  Ask a roofer or plumber to provide you with their license number or a copy of their license.

*MANDATORY INSURANCE COVERAGE:  Under Illinois law, most contractors are required to carry minimum amounts of insurance for property damage, bodily injury, and improper home repair.  Contractors, unless they maintain a net worth of $1,000,000, must obtain and maintain public liability and property damage insurance in the amount of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence for bodily injury and $50,000 per occurrence for property damage.  Even if the contractor has provided you with proof of full insurance coverage, as an additional safeguard, confirm that your homeowner’s policy covers accidents to persons working on your property. 

*GET IT IN WRITING: Don’t rely on oral promises.  Make sure that all of the important promises and representations made to you by the contractor are also incorporated in the contract or estimate.  Request copies of any application for a credit check, application for financing, estimate, and sales contract.  

*CONTRACT REVIEW:  Read a contract carefully before signing.   Don’t sign a contract with any blank spaces.  In general, only contracts signed at your residence have a three-day “cancellation” period.  Consider all other contracts to be final.     

*PAYMENT OF A DEPOSIT:  Don’t pay for the entire job prior to the start of work.  However, the payment of a deposit or advance payment for building materials is customary and fair in the home repair and remodeling industry. Most contractors will accept 1/3 payment before work begins, 1/3 when the project has reached the halfway point and 1/3 when all work has been completed to the customer’s satisfaction.

*DOCUMENT ANY DIFFICULTIES WITH THE CONTRACTOR:  If problems arise with the contractor, prepare a list and take photographs of the work and materials already furnished to you.  Document all of your efforts, including telephone conversations and meetings, to resolve the dispute. 

Try to acquire as much information from the contractor about his reasons for nonperformance so that this information can be provided later to a private attorney or the authorities.    

*SEND A DEMAND LETTER:  If telephone calls and meetings do not resolve the dispute, you should notify the contractor in writing of the exact nature of the problem.  This demand letter should request a refund or completion of the work within a reasonable time period of at least ten (10) business days, and it should be sent by regular and certified mail or hand-delivered.  Retain a copy of this demand letter for your own records.                 

If you cannot resolve the dispute on your own and you feel that you have been the victim of fraud, the Consumer Fraud Division of the State’s Attorney’s Office may be able to help you recover your losses, prosecute the person or business responsible for the fraud, and prevent other members of the public from falling victim to the same scheme. 

To initiate a complaint with the Consumer Fraud Division, please call 312/603-8700 from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM on weekdays.  The Consumer Fraud Division is staffed by specialists, and often, many citizen questions about a home repair or remodeling dispute can be promptly answered over the telephone. In some cases, you will be asked to file a written complaint with the State’s Attorney’s Office, and in other situations, you may be referred to another government agency, private organization, or resource.  Spanish language service is also available.

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Welcome to CopyLine Magazine! The first issue of CopyLine Magazine was published in November, 1990, by Editor & Publisher Juanita Bratcher. CopyLine’s main focus is on the political arena – to inform our readers and analyze many of the pressing issues of the day - controversial or otherwise. Our objectives are clear – to keep you abreast of political happenings and maneuvering in the political arena, by reporting and providing provocative commentaries on various issues. For more about CopyLine Magazine, CopyLine Blog, and CopyLine Television/Video, please visit juanitabratcher.com, copylinemagazine.com, and oneononetelevision.com. Bratcher has been a News/Reporter, Author, Publisher, and Journalist for 33 years. She is the author of six books, including “Harold: The Making of a Big City Mayor” (Harold Washington), Chicago’s first African-American mayor; and “Beyond the Boardroom: Empowering a New Generation of Leaders,” about John Herman Stroger, Jr., the first African-American elected President of the Cook County Board. Bratcher is also a Poet/Songwriter, with 17 records – produced by HillTop Records of Hollywood, California. Juanita Bratcher Publisher

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