By RHEA-FRANCES TETLEY – Staff Writer
Now that the mountain area has been declared a disaster area, that declaration unfortunately seems to attract scammers from near and far.
Scammers can be defined as those who will come to the area, do sub-standard work and take advantage of disaster victims. They often victimize seniors and those who cannot afford to be ripped off and are seeking low prices to get work done, quickly. The scammers will offer to do work at low prices that turns out to be of inferior quality and substandard workmanship. Sometimes, those prices are not even low, but work can begin immediately, which often appeals to those who are devasted by loss and want to repair the loss immediately.
There are several rules that residents need to be aware of, now that workers are coming out of the woodwork to do post-disaster work up here. Remember to try to get more than one bid on a job to know the real value and scope of the job that needs to be done.
Residents need to remember that a handyman can only legally perform jobs valued under $500. A person who wants to charge over $500 needs to have a contractor’s license. To hire someone to do any job, there should be a written contract and the person should be licensed and insured. Also, anyone who wants to contract to do a job may only take an up-front deposit of 10 percent of the job for materials and should only accept the deposit after signing a written contract, cautions the local contractors board. A booklet listing the members of the Associated Building Contractors of the San Bernardino Mountains is available at their website (https://lakearrowhead-abc.com) or their booklets are in the chamber of commerce office.
Often, those handymen who request a large up-front deposit, such as 40 percent, never return; without a written contract, the resident is out the money as there is no proof the money was ever paid. Other times, handymen may, if paid halfway through a job, may just never return to complete the job. Hiring a licensed and insured contractor with a defined payment plan in the signed contract protects the resident against such scams.
A person who is from out of the area is more likely to scam a person; however, many local people have a reputation for scamming others, so get recommendations, even for smaller, less than $500 handman jobs, before engaging a worker. Be sure they have insurance as, if they get hurt on the job, they may sue the homeowner for their injuries, which can become very expensive.
According to local contractor Mike Ellison of Ellison Asphalt (Ellisonasphalt.com), a common ruse and a hint they may be a scammer is someone who has “extra materials” left over from a job they “did down the street’ and they offer a discount to do the job right then, or the offer is only good “today.” They may be very charming and say they are offering a special deal; often this is for projects such as roofing, painting or to slurry an asphalt driveway. A good contractor doesn’t have extra material left over as they have properly estimated a job and purchased the accurate quantity of materials needed.
Nationwide, these scammers are known as “travelers” who come to a town to rip off unsuspecting homeowners and work the town for a short while. When the poor materials and shoddy work are discovered a couple of months later – when the paint begins to peel or the roof leaks – the “traveler” is far away and unreachable and the homeowner is out the money they paid and often must have the work redone. These “travelers” are also known to move from disaster to disaster and scam people by doing poor quality repairs. Be sure to check the references of your contractors.
Some cleanup and trash haulers, especially those new to the area, have been known to go out into the forest and dump the trash or clean up materials, instead of paying the trash fees at the dump. If your trash is left in the forest and can be traced to you as the homeowner, you can be held responsible for the illegally disposed trash on federal lands and cleanup costs.
In recent weeks, this has become a major problem for the forest. If you discover these dumped materials while hiking in the forest, the U.S. Forest Service wants to know the location as they must go out and do cleanup for the health of the animals of the forest. Do not be the person held financially responsible for this dumping by hiring just anyone to remove your fallen trees or buildings.
The Mountain Rim Fire Safe Council, as a help from this disaster, will chip fallen limbs and small tree trunks up to eight inches in diameter for free. See their website at www.firesafenow.org and use the tab “chipping” for the directions on how to apply.
Ellison cautions to use a reputable cleanup company that will legally dispose of your materials; it may cost a little more but is cheaper for all in the long run.