Homeowner Complaints About Contractors Skyrocket
By Eric Kalis
Miami-Dade County officials say they will crack down on unscrupulous contractors after logging 439 homeowner complaints between April and June – a 256% increase from a year earlier.
The county’s Building Code Compliance Office is working with local and state law-enforcement agencies to investigate complaints of homeowners, who can file them through the office’s Web site or by calling Miami-Dade’s 3-1-1 Answer Center. If the case involves a licensed contractor, an investigator from the office decides if it should be brought before the Construction Trades Qualifying Board or the Board of Rules and Appeals, which consists of construction professionals.
For an unlicensed individual, investigators work with Miami-Dade Police officers and the State Attorney’s Office to determine if an arrest is warranted.
The increase from 171 to 439 registered complaints signifies the county’s diligence in addressing a major problem, said Truly Burton, government affairs director for the Builders Association of South Florida. Since last year’s hurricane season, she said, some contractors have taken advantage of anxious homeowners looking for quick and inexpensive repairs.
"There is a strong compliance code in place," Ms. Burton said. "But without proper enforcement, it means nothing. It is great to see the county involved in a coordinated effort with the police department and the state."
Response time has been slowed because of the increased volume of complaints, said Danny Vuelta, Building Code Compliance Office investigations supervisor.
"Normally, from the time a complaint arrives in the office, initial contact with the homeowner is within 48 hours," Mr. Vuelta said. "Now that process has slowed to sometimes up to five days because of the enormous amount of complaints."
The bulk of complaints, Mr. Vuelta said, have dealt with roofing and shutters. In extreme cases, he said, people paid up to 90% of a roofing contract upfront only to have the unlicensed contractor disappear with the money.
To avoid such incidents, the office does "proactive enforcement," Mr. Vuelta said, "but that’s not going to stop people."
While trade organizations like the Builders Association of South Florida cannot directly prevent homeowners from hiring the wrong contractor, Ms. Burton said, they can provide educational programs for residents to make prudent decisions. Besides offering hurricane tips for the upcoming season, the builders association is planning a seminar to teach homeowners how to hire a contractor.
"The first line of defense is an informed consumer," Ms. Burton said. "If a homeowner is in trouble, that is when the government steps in. Our job is to help educate the consumer." Advertisement