Teresa McUsic

How to check out a roofing contractor before fixing storm damage

Helpers spread a tarp over a home as residents east of Rio Vista cleaned up after tornado damage earlier this week.
Helpers spread a tarp over a home as residents east of Rio Vista cleaned up after tornado damage earlier this week. Star-Telegram

Cities and towns in North Texas are taking action to protect residents from fly-by-night roofers and contractors who are swarming in after last weekend’s storms.

At the same time, the Fort Worth Better Business Bureau sent teams of volunteers and staffers to walk the hardest-hit neighborhoods in Stephenville and Rio Vista, distributing materials to educate homeowners on how to pick a repair company.

“A lot of out-of-town roofers are chasing storms and trying to make consumers feel it is an urgent deal to get their homes repaired,” said Larry Taylor, the bureau’s president and CEO. “But insurance companies allow a year to get repairs. So long as you use blue tarps to make sure your house is dry, you are much better off waiting and picking a contractor who will be there to do a proper job and take care of things like warranty issues.”

This week, the Arlington City Council gave the green light for the city to ask for more information before granting a residential work permit, including whether the contractor can provide general-liability insurance and what type of business entity it is, said Roger Venables, the city’s assistant director for community development and planning.

Both questions could slow the influx of home repair and roofing contractors who come from out of state or simply decide to start their own business in a state with no licensing or regulation.

“Consumers can go to ArlingtonPermits.com and search if the contractor is registered with us,” Venables said. He emphasized that the city doesn’t recommend particular contractors but that the listing provides “another piece of information consumers can use when evaluating the legitimacy of a company.”

Any roof repair in Arlington that involves more than 10 percent of the roof requires a permit and inspection by the city after the work is completed, Venables said.

Meanwhile, the Stephenville Police Department has issued a notice reminding residents and any contractors drumming up work in the tornado- and hail-damaged area that it requires a solicitation permit.

“It’s aimed specifically for helping our citizens from being defrauded,” said Stephenville police Sgt. Sha King, who said the city has been inundated with roofing companies since the storms. “We’re doing everything we can to try to protect our citizens.”

The permit is required for any business that solicits door to door. The business must supply contact information, a sales tax certificate, its financial rating from a third party or its affiliation with a consumer protection group, and authorization to conduct a criminal background check.

These measures help protect against the “two guys and a truck” roofing contractors who use hail trackers to find damaged homes and then pitch their services, said Karen Vermaire Fox, executive director of the North Texas Roofing Contractors Association.

“These companies often buy stolen shingles and do a crappy job,” she said. “Then two years later, something bad happens and you can’t find these guys. You find a new contractor after doing your homework, and it turns out they never took the deck off or the felt off and they have to start all over.”

For more than a decade, the association has pushed the Texas Legislature — unsuccessfully — to require roofers to be licensed and to have general-liability insurance in case they harm people or property during the job, she said.

“Most people assume that it is required in Texas, but not for roofers,” she said. “The person who does our nails has to have it, but not roofers.”

Legislation is being discussed for voluntary registration of roofers with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. House Bill 2734, sponsored by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, is pending in committee.

A state law enacted in 2012 prohibits any contractor without a physical address in the county or an adjacent county from collecting money upfront for work after a disaster. One of the biggest scams by unscrupulous roofing contractors is asking for money upfront, then not showing up with materials to do the work, Fox said.

“But the law only is in place after an area is declared a natural disaster area by the governor,” she said. “Even when Arlington had a big tornado two years ago, the area was not considered a disaster area.”

Fox recommends that anyone paying for materials upfront demand that they be delivered first, then secure them from being stolen before the work is done.

The Better Business Bureau reported 63,000 inquiries for roofing contractors last year, and it has 66,000 verified reviews of those contractors that consumers can check out before they hire someone, Taylor said. Last year, the bureau worked through 131 complaints with roofers.

“But if they’re from another state, there is very little recourse we have to help,” he said.

On its website, www.bbb.org/fort-worth, the bureau has tips for picking a contractor after storm damage to homes and cars. The roofing contractors association also has tips and a list of members at its website, www.ntrca.com.

Bottom line: Don’t hire in a hurry and do your homework before having your home repaired.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net