After Harvey: Roofing fraud bill would regulate contractors to avoid scams

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Damaging severe weather can cause more than short-term trouble. Homeowners in the path of Hurricane Harvey can attest to that and so can anyone who has roughed it through storms bringing golf ball-sized hail in north or west Texas. 

A new bill filed this week aims to change the way contractors are regulated in the state.

“We feel like the Texas consumer has no place to turn in the event of these catastrophic losses such as Hurricane Harvey or the hailstorms that occur,” Brad Jones, president of the Roofing Contractors Association of Texas (RCAT), said at a Thursday press conference.

In an effort to protect consumers, State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, said he filed House Bill 2101, which would require roofers to register with the state. State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo filed a companion bill in the upper chamber.

“What we’re looking for is a registration,” Capriglione said, explaining that roofers come out “almost literally from out of the woodwork to come to try and sell services and sell businesses.”

The bill would also create a state website for consumers to verify the credentials of roofing contractors.

“You can go and see if that roofer has come to your house is in fact registered to be able to do business in the state of Texas, you have a phone number to go and call them in case there’s a problem and you can go and get a list if they’ve ever had sanctions or penalties,” Capriglione added.

RCAT started a voluntary licensing program that would be the base for the mandatory statewide implementation if the bill passes.

“We are the only coastal state in the United States that does not at least have a registration process,” said Melanie Knox, president of the Central Texas chapter of the statewide roofer group. “We have a lot of honest contractors in Texas but you can’t tell the difference between them until you do a lot of research unfortunately.”

Roadblocks for the legislation could include lawmakers who believe in a free-market economy and lessening government regulations, like some of the members of the Texas Freedom Caucus. The group’s mission includes restraining government and revitalizing personal and economic freedoms in the State of Texas. We reached out to five of the 11 members, but none of them were available for comment for this report.

The bill also calls for a $250 price tag to register for the first two-year term, and $100 to renew.

Jones indicated this kind of legislation has had trouble gaining support in the past, and lawmakers did not have an “appetite” for it before. Knox hopes this bill would diffuse distrust in the roofing industry that she said is caused by contractors that show up after a disaster, tell homeowners they will do the work, then make off with thousands of dollars and not lift a hammer.

“It would make it so much easier if the homeowner could log online, check the registration number, verify it with who is actually standing in front of them, and their homework would be done basically,” said Knox.

Roofing experts say there is no requirement for roofers to have liability insurance. Capriglione did not include that in his proposed legislation but holds out hope that could be an addition at some point, though maybe not this session.

“There’s nothing more important that it be safe and sound from the roof down to the floor,” Capriglione said.

The Federal Emergency Managemeny Agency (FEMA) released a list of tips on Thursday to protect Texans from contractor fraud. Tips include never paying in advance, get the agreement in writing and research the contractor.

More tips can be found in this FEMA advisory.

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