Monday, December 6, 2021

Post-Irma Scams Target Homeowners

Coastal Breeze News has received reports of unscrupulous contractors misleading homeowners into making unnecessary, and costly home repairs.

During Hurricane Irma’s torrential rains, many homeowners had wind driven rain come in through windows and sliding glass doors. Some contractors are claiming that it was contaminated water that came in from the windowsills during and after Hurricane Irma.

One local inspector sampled over 100 locations that a contractor claimed was contaminated, and found no contamination in any of them. The unscrupulous contractor used claims of contamination to justify removing more sheet rock than was necessary, thus creating more work, and a higher payment to himself. There have been other reports of contractors claiming the presence of dangerous mold, requiring remediation.

Inflated estimates following a storm are, unfortunately, quite common. A property manager for one of Marco Island’s condominiums told us that following Hurricane Irma he had received estimates for water extraction from the building’s common areas. The estimates ranged wildly from $75,000 up to $150,000. After careful consideration the condo board decided the best course of action was to remove the carpet (which was already old and could use replacement) at a cost of $40,000. The experience, he explained, shows the importance of giving pause, and not making decisions too quickly out of panic.

We consulted Erik Condee, Operations Coordinator and Vice President of Condee Cooling, who holds both a Mold Assessor and Remediator license. Condee stated that there is usually some evidence of mold spores in the home, but that needs to be compared with an outdoor sample. He advised, “Don’t let an assessor try to conduct an air sample test after it has recently rained or when it is raining, as the control sample will have the spores washed out of the air by the rain, and the test should not be valid.”

Condee recommended researching the contractor, including verifying the license information with DBPR at Adding, “When it comes to mold there is an assessor license and a remediator license; when demo needs to be done to the dwelling they need to have the correct type of building contractor license as well as a permit from the City of Marco.” Importantly, he noted, “It may be recommended to have an independent mold assessor do testing, (rather) than the same contractor that is going to profit the most from the possibility of needed work.”

Local law enforcement has been hard at work to protect homeowners. According to the Marco Island Police Department Twitter, in mid-November the MIPD Code Enforcement Unit teamed up with Florida’s Bureau of Compliance/Division of Worker’s Compensation, Florida’s Fraud & Consumer Protection Investigators and Collier County Contractor Licensing for a two-day sweep of Marco Island. Thirty-four sites were visited and over fifty individuals interviewed. Between the agencies presented, fourteen enforcement actions were taken, which included unlicensed contracting and construction site violations.

Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino advised that the MIPD has also been sending out messages through the city’s website and Twitter account to educate the public on using a licensed contractor and checking with the Better Business Bureau before hiring a contractor. He says, “It is important for the homeowner to investigate the business, especially out of state contractors.” Schettino also recommended that a homeowner ask for references from jobs done in the past. Schettino stated that there have been no reports to the MIPD of contractor scams, like the ones described above. He did state, however, that there have been thefts reported from condos when contractors were given keys to work inside the units.

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