Residents warned of shady contractors

EAST LIVERPOOL – The sound of hailstones on homes has faded, but their impact is still being felt around East Liverpool and Calcutta.

A severe storm that brought hail the size of golf balls on May 14 damaged hundreds of homes and has brought a legion of out-of-town contractors in its wake, officials say.

Local contractors say they have so much work that they can’t keep up with it all, which has opened the door to sometimes unscrupulous, opportunistic contractors from other counties and even other states.

One estimate, based solely on the proliferation of yard signs, has put the number of contractors promising hail-related repairs at 21. Only two of them are local.

“You don’t want to get any contractor that’s from more than 20 miles away,” said Mike Davis of the LaCroft-based Mike Davis Roofing. “The rule is: You don’t crap in your own backyard. If they’re from more than 20 miles away, chances are they ain’t never coming back.”

Davis knows because he used to be one of those contractors who followed hail storms.

“This is how I got into the business. … It was fun traveling around the U.S., but now it’s in my backyard,” he said. “I’ve never had this much work before.”

Davis said his company has done about 20 jobs since the May 14 hail storm, and more are pending. “Insurance companies are totaling out about every roof I’ve done,” he said.

Davis said storm chasers give reputable contractors a bad name. “We used to joke about a 30-30 warranty, which is 30 miles or 30 minutes after a job is done,” he said.

Not all out-of-town contractors are suspect, but homeowners should exercise caution when hiring one, said Michael Stutzman of the Sugarcreek, Ohio-based Tango & Gatti Inc.

“There’s been a lot of people going door to door and getting pushy about wanting someone to sign a contract right away, and that’s just not necessary,” he said. “Normally, when a storm hits that was as severe as the one in East Liverpool, people find out about it pretty quickly. Whenever you have 2-inch hail, it’s going to draw a lot of attention.”

Stutzman has been in the area – from two counties away – inspecting homes based on insurance company referrals. He said he’s inspected about 20 since the storm hit nearly two months ago and that about 75 percent of those homes have had major damage – to roof shingles and tiles, aluminum gutters and siding, vinyl siding, air conditioning units, screens and windows.

“One insurance adjuster I met with said his local office had received over 400 new claims,” Stutzman said. “I’ve heard that there have been several thousand claims that have been filed in the area.”

Stutzman said homeowners should consult with their insurance company about reputable local contractors and should avoid signing a contract the day of the inspection. Usually, after the contractor’s inspection, and once a claim is filed, the insurance company will send a licensed public adjuster to do a follow-up inspection, he said.

Stephen Cooper, of Cooper Insurance Agency Inc., cautions homeowners not to sign a contract until they have the cash from the insurance settlement.

“The crux of the matter is: Make sure there’s damage. Make sure the insurance company knows about it and they have proof of the damage,” he said.

Cooper said the impact of the May hail storm has grown with time and by word of mouth, as neighbors see neighbors getting their roofs repaired or replaced.

“We’ve seen a lot of claims. … They’re still coming in,” he said. “I’ve never seen so many claims from one storm in all my years of experience.”

Cooper said out-of-town contractors looking to make a quick buck should be avoided. Insurance agents and insurance adjusters “know who the bad guys are” and can recommend good companies.

The Better Business Bureau of the Mahoning Valley (Mahoning, Columbiana and Trumbull counties) also keeps a directory of contractors and other businesses that commit to a high standard of workmanship and professionalism, said Melissa Ames, vice president of BBB services.

Ames said, to date, the Youngstown BBB has not received any complaints about roofing contractors in connection with the May 14 storm in East Liverpool.

“Roofing contracting is generally one of our most inquired about and complained about industries. Sometimes, it’s just the nature of the beast,” she said. “The industry itself is pretty lax. … There are a lot of companies that pop up overnight. A lot of companies will just travel to where the work is. It’s not uncommon for companies to come up from the Southern states because they know there’s work here.”

So far this year, the Youngstown BBB has received six complaints about roofing companies but none from Columbiana County, Ames said. In the past year, there have been 34 complaints and 8,000 inquiries about roofing companies in the three counties, she said.

Stutzman said, “I haven’t heard too many bad things about East Liverpool, but I know there are a lot of contractors working the area right now. … They come in just as fast as the storm hits, and they’re out of there as fast as the storm is gone.”

Companies that want to solicit and work in East Liverpool must obtain a solicitor’s permit, a contractor’s license and a building permit. A solicitor’s permit costs $20 and is good for six days, while a contractor’s license costs $100 and is good for a year, said Laura Smith, secretary with the city planning department.

“We’ve probably registered 25 new contractors since the storm,” Smith said, noting that licensure does not necessarily denote endorsement by the city.

Planning department inspector Karl Fife said city regulations prohibit the posting of business advertising signs in yards. Violators can be fined $50 a day.