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July 29, 2003

Attorney General Obtains Judgment Against Home Improvement Contractors

DES MOINES.   Attorney General Tom Miller announced today that his office has obtained a consumer protection judgment against Des Moines home improvement contractor Larry Shane Thomas, doing business as Shazzam Roofing & Seamless Gutters. Miller's Consumer Protection Division alleged that Thomas violated Iowa law, and a 1999 agreement with the Consumer Protection Division, in his dealings with a Pleasant Hill couple for home improvements including a new roof and gutters. Under the judgment, Thomas must refund money to the couple and must pay up to $40,000 in civil penalties if he violates any of the terms of the judgement. Miller said that the action was part of an ongoing effort by his office to deter home improvement fraud.

The Attorney General's office alleged that Mr. Thomas violated the 1999 agreement and state law when he took money in advance for purposes other than the purchase of materials, failed to complete the job after taking the consumers' money, didn't give the cancellation notices required by the Door to Door Sales Act, didn't register as a Construction Contractor and didn't register his Trade Name as required by law. Thomas admitted the violations in the judgment.

The judgment, entered by Polk County District Court Judge Don Nickerson, prohibits Thomas from failing to complete work within a reasonable time, accepting any payments for labor until the labor is performed, and accepting payments for materials in advance unless the consumer's payment is made to the third party supplier of the materials. Nickerson also ordered Thomas to comply with the Iowa Door-to-Door Sales Act and Construction Contractor registration and Trade Names laws. He also ordered Thomas to pay a refund to the Pleasant Hill couple and assessed an additional up to $40,000 in civil penalties - but he said Thomas would not be required to pay the penalties to the State so long as he complies with all other terms of the Court judgment.

In 1999 Miller's office obtained an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance from Thomas that required him to comply with the Consumer Fraud Act and Door to Door Sales Act, and to register his trade name and as a Construction Contractor as required by state law. The Assurance also required Thomas to refrain from requesting or accepting advance payments from consumers in connection with any home improvement contracts except for materials promptly delivered to the work site.

Ongoing Efforts to Deter Home Improvement Fraud

Miller said that the action was part of an ongoing effort by his office to deter home improvement fraud. "For most Iowans, their homes are the most expensive purchases they'll ever make. It is vitally important that contractors obey the law and complete work as promised. The classic problem occurs when a questionable contractor takes a large sum of money in advance to do a job but never does the work," said Miller. "The huge majority of contractors in Iowa are capable and honest, but a few bad apples can really cause problems for people," he said. "They can cause big losses and big headaches."

Miller added that his Consumer Protection Division has recovered hundreds of thousands of dollars for Iowa consumers in home improvement cases in recent years, as well as orders that contractors complete work as guaranteed and refrain from seeking large sums of money in advance of completing work. Miller said his office's efforts also include consumer education and work with local law enforcement agencies.

Miller offered these tips to consumers to avoid home improvement fraud:

  • Be extremely wary of contractors who come to you offering repairs. Legitimate contractors don't generally need to seek customers. Deal with a reputable local contractor. Check for local contractors listed in your telephone directory.
  • Obtain several estimates and get all estimates in writing.
  • Never pay large sums in advance if you don't know the contractor. If you have to make an advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor.
  • Check out the contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money. Ask if the contractor is registered with the Labor Services Division of Iowa Workforce Development (800-562-4692, ext. 25871), or check it out online at: Ask for local references and check them out. Call the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division to see if it has any complaints.
  • Get all contracts in writing. Before any work begins, agree on a written contract detailing work to be done, responsibility for permits, costs, and any other promises. Request a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate. Put start and completion dates in writing and consequences if the contractor fails to follow them (example: that the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time). If you sign a contract at your home, in most cases you have three business days to cancel.

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