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Use common sense when hiring a contractor

By: By Lucy Haines

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jan 04, 2014 06:00 am

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  • DOING YOUR HOMEWORK – Hiring a contractor to perform household renovations shouldn't be a high-pressure situation and should not involve up-front payment, say police.
    DOING YOUR HOMEWORK – Hiring a contractor to perform household renovations shouldn't be a high-pressure situation and should not involve up-front payment, say police.
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  • IN WRITING – A written, itemized contract is essential when hiring a contractor.
    IN WRITING – A written, itemized contract is essential when hiring a contractor.

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With the cold temperatures and mounds of snow covering the yard, roof and driveway – blanketing what may need fixing – home repair or renovation is likely not top of mind.

But it’s probably just the right time to set up a plan for renovation projects for the coming year, and in light of a sting operation in the Edmonton area this fall, which found several cases of contractor fraud, it’s wise to review some dos and don’ts when planning to hire someone to do work in and around the home.

In August and September of 2012, 24 contractors – 13 in Edmonton and 11 in Calgary – visited homes as part of a proactive sting operation by the provincial government. Investigators from the consumer programs branch of Service Alberta posed as homeowners and invited contractors to houses in the two cities to negotiate home renovations. To date, seven contractors have been charged with 11 counts under the province’s Fair Trading Act.

Could contractor fraud happen in St. Albert, perhaps perceived as an easy target in the capital region, with a higher-than-average income among residents? Reports to RCMP or within the city’s senior community don’t bear this out, but St. Albert MLA Stephen Khan said several factors are at play: a booming regional population, low unemployment and a climate that calls for large numbers of contractors and skilled labourers – it can create an environment that some will take advantage of, Khan said.

“The overwhelming majority of contractors are honest, hardworking people,” said Khan. “We want the bad apples out there to know the government is monitoring them and cares about protecting consumers.”

The St. Albert 50+ Club isn’t aware of any contractor-specific problems in the city either. Executive director Val Niblock said if a member alerts the club of a problem, an e-mail notification goes out to let others know. If warranted, the club will even host an information event on how to avoid scams or the like.

Laurel Kading, corporal in charge of community policing with the St. Albert RCMP detachment, said while it’s not uncommon for contractors to ask for deposits for supplies, etc., asking to pay in full up front should send up a red flag.

“Pay attention to those signs – it shouldn’t be a high-pressure situation in any way,” she said. “We don’t encourage people to pay in advance. Do research on the contractor and talk to others who’ve had similar work done. Also, see if a contractor has insurance and is registered with the Better Business Bureau. As always, it’s buyer beware.”

Under Alberta’s consumer protection law, requirements for prepaid contractors include a licence, written contract, itemized price list, and start and completion dates. If you don’t have this, don’t approve the job.

Kading said it’s also important to report any fraudulent activity to RCMP, so police can look for patterns or determine if the problem is criminal in nature.

“Scams happen to people of every age,” Kading said. “Criminals can be very convincing, with professional letterhead, name tags, etc. Ask yourself, do you want the person who shows up on your doorstep working in your home if you haven’t done a check on them?”


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