by Charlotte Smith
Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey and the North Carolina Department of Insurance announced this week is National Consumer Protection Week. The week focuses on the importance of being informed and knowing consumers’ rights. NCPW is a time to help people understand their consumer rights and make well-informed consumer decisions.
Recently many Bladen County citizens have voiced complaints about losing tens of thousands of dollars to unlicensed contractors. The concerns range from unlicensed general contractors, electricians, heating and air conditioning contractors, and plumbing contractors.
Local unlicensed contractor Michael Phillips from Clarkton has multiple complaints.
Mrs. Millicent E. Parker from Council explained she met Mr. Phillips at a gas station and told him she needed some remodeling done at her home because he had Legacy Renovations/Remodeling advertised on his vehicle.
Mr. Phillips met her at her home and told her he could handle her construction projects. Now, months later, and after the Parkers gave Phillips $29,600, they are left with gaping holes in their yard, an unfinished crawl space covering, and drainage issues.
The Parkers are not the only Bladen County residents with complaints against Phillips. The Better Business Bureau’s site has five complaints filed against Phillips. He is also facing at least one civil suit and a complaint filed against him with the North Carolina General Attorney.
BladenOnline reached out to Mr. Phillips to discuss the complaints we have received about him and his company. He referred us to his attorney. At the time of publication, his attorney has not returned correspondence with BladenOnline.
DiCicco Construction is another unlicensed and uninsured company with multiple complaints. Keith Rose explained he lost $44,000 to the unlicensed, uninsured, and unbonded company. He explained he found DiCicco Construction’s business card at a hardware store but should have made sure the contractor was licensed and insured.
Rose explained everything Dicicco Construction did had to be torn out because it did not meet the State’s code requirements. Rose warns, “Do not let anyone provide work for you if they do not have the tools. Also, don’t pay a deposit. Only pay for services after they are completed.”
Because Dicicco Construction started the project, Mr. Rose said law enforcement told him he could not press charges. However, he is planning to file a civil suit.
There are many other complaints BladenOnline has received about local unlicensed contractors. Consumers may avoid situations like these if they follow these ten tips for consumers before beginning a construction project.
These tips from the North Carolina General Contracting Board can protect you from substantial financial loss and emotional stress.
- Plan your project. Plan out in detail what you want done and who you will need to complete it. No two projects are the same, and some may require a specially licensed contractor. Contact your local permitting office to see if permits are required to assure code compliance.
- Get several estimates. When comparing estimates from different contractors, don’t just compare the bottom-line cost. Look at the cost, quantity, and quality of materials in each estimate. Be sure the estimate includes the total price, the materials to be used, a timetable for payments, and the expected timeline for completion of the work.
- Verify the contractor’s license. In the State of North Carolina, a general contractor must be licensed if the contract is valued at $30,000 or higher. Get proof that the contractor you may be working with is licensed by searching here (link to search).
- Check at least 3 references. Ask your contractor for written references. Contact each reference and ask if they were satisfied with the contractor’s work and if the contractor kept to the schedule and contract terms.
- Require a written contract. The contract should be a detailed description of the work to be done, the material to be used, and the equipment to be installed. Be sure there is a schedule of payments and a timeline for when the work will be completed. Be sure you understand the contract before you sign it. Any changes that occur should be noted in writing.
- Don’t make a large down payment. The down payment you pay in order for work to begin should be minimal. Beware of contractors asking for a large down payment so that they can purchase the materials to begin your project.
- Make payments as work is completed. Set up a payment schedule that follows the work as it is being completed. Never pay for something that has not been completed. Do not pay for anything in cash.
- Monitor the job in progress. Check in regularly on the progress of the work. Permits should be displayed by the contractor while the work is being done.
- Don’t make the final payment until the job is complete. Before making the final payment, make sure that you are satisfied with the completed work. Verify that all liens have been released.
- Keep all paperwork related to the job. Be sure to keep a record of all documents that pertain to your project. This includes the contract, any written changes, all bills and invoices, receipts of payments, and all correspondence with your contractor. You should also include photos of the job in progress.
North Carolina strives to protect consumers through its regulatory efforts to license construction professionals, enforce the licensing laws, and take disciplinary action against construction licensees that violate those laws. However, a consumer’s complaint is only eligible if: the contractor is licensed or the contractor is unlicensed, and the contract is $30,000 or more.
Ensuring contractors are licensed and insured provides accountability and protection for the consumer.
Consumers may also contact the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission is the nation’s consumer protection agency. The commission asks anyone to file a complaint if they feel they have been taken advantage of as a consumer.
Visit ftc.gov/complaint to file a report. Watch the video below for instructions.
More links for information.
License search for General Contractors – https://www.nclbgc.org/
License search for HVAC and Plumbing – Verify License Search – State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating & Fire Sprinkler Contractors (nclicensing.org)
License Search for Electrical – Verify License Search – NC Board Examiners of Electrical Contractors (ncbeec.org)