Fraud Watch: Make sure you get the right contractor for the job

Posted at 8:56 AM, Jun 28, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-28 10:56:54-04

HELENA – Many people are thinking about home improvement projects with warmer weather around Montana.

The Montana Office of Consumer Protection is warning that the start of summer also brings more calls from consumers unhappy with their contractors.

“For about the last five years it’s been pretty consistent: We’ve seen about 100 complaints a year for contractors,” said OCP investigator Marcus Meyer.

Meyer said the most common complaint is that a contractor simply never finished the job.

“They may have taken the money and never done the work, or there’s been a delay in doing the work, or they’ve done part of the work but haven’t completed the full project,” he said.

OCP leaders say, if you want to get the best contractor for the job, you need to do the research. That begins with knowing exactly what your job requires, including the materials that will be used and how much it’s likely to cost.

Next, experts say consumers should get bids in writing from at least two or three contractors. They also recommend getting at least three references from each contractor and checking with those people.

Once you choose a contractor, Meyer says it’s important to have a detailed written contract, including expected costs and start and end dates. If there are any changes or concerns – like if the contractor needs to do additional work or buy additional materials – that should be recorded in writing as well.

“We just want consumers to open up the line of communication with the person that they choose, to make sure that if anything needs to be changed, that both parties are aware of it,” said Meyer.

You can check with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry to make sure a contractor is registered, but OCP says that’s not a guarantee they do good work. Meyer suggests contacting OCP, to see if any other complaints have been filed against the people you are considering.

Meyer also reminds consumers to be careful of so-called “drive-by pavers” – who go door-to-door and suggest they can offer a low price to repave driveways – and “storm chasers” – who pass through an area after a storm and offer to repair roofs. He said both are common scams in the summer months.

If you have questions about contractors or other consumer issues, you can contact the Montana Office of Consumer Protection at (406) 444-4500. Information is also available on the agency’s website.