Consumer Protection Division gains additional protections for any future customers
(DES MOINES, Iowa) A Polk County judge Wednesday ordered an Omaha contractor to comply with Iowa’s consumer fraud and door-to-door sales laws, and ordered him to reimburse a Council Bluffs resident more than $7,000 after Attorney General Tom Miller alleged the contractor violated several Iowa consumer laws.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division opened an investigation more than a year ago after consumers complained that Mark Schneidewind, owner of NationWide Construction, Inc. (also doing business in the Omaha area as Midwest Restorations, Inc.), complained that Schneidewind and his company failed to provide services following payment, provided substandard services and made misrepresentations to customers.
Polk County District Court Judge Robert A. Hutchison ordered Schneidewind to reimburse an 87-year-old Council Bluffs man $7,179 after, in 2009, the consumer’s insurance company paid NationWide to repair storm damage to his house. NationWide failed to do the work and refused to refund the consumer’s insurance money.
The order, called a Consent Judgment, which followed a petition filed Wednesday by Miller, also requires Schneidewind and NationWide to comply with the Iowa Door-to-Door Sales Act, and to comply with a court-ordered list of business practices. Schneidewind and NationWide agreed to the court order, though denied Miller’s allegations.
Those allegations include:
- In the case of the 87-year-old Iowan owed more than $7,000, the company during a sales pitch misrepresented its membership with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). According to the BBB, which rates NationWide Construction at an “F,” the company is not BBB accredited. NationWide collected an insurance payment in advance but failed to perform the storm repair work. The defendants failed to follow Iowa laws on consumers’ rights to cancel, and failed to issue a refund.
- The defendants failed to comply with a previous Attorney General subpoena and violated a previous court order enforcing that subpoena.
- The defendants were doing business in Iowa but were not registered contractors with Iowa Workforce Development, as state law requires.
- The defendants violated several state consumer protection laws.
Miller sought additional court-ordered protections for future Iowa consumers should the defendants seek additional home repair or contracting work. Those protections include ordering the defendants to comply with the Iowa Door-to-Door Sales Act, ordering the defendants not to request or collect payments for labor or materials until a contract is fully completed, and ordering the defendants not to engage in consumer fraud or misrepresentations. The defendants also must respond to future complaints and inquiries from the Office of the Attorney General. If the defendants fail to comply with this court order, they could face a contempt action and be permanently barred from future home repair and contracting work.
Tips to finding a good contractor and avoiding home repair scams and disputes:
- Watch for scams at your doorstep, where someone shows up and says your driveway needs repaving, or your house needs new shingles – and they “just happen to have materials left over” at a big discount! Just say no to a deal that is based on “extra materials,” someone demanding an immediate decision, or a contractor who only accepts cash.
- Avoid the high pressure pitch. If you’re feeling pressured to sign a contract, agree to a service or buy something you hadn’t planned on buying, just say NO to the seller.
- Check out and interview contractors before you sign a contract or pay any money. Request local references and contact them! Check on complaints with the Attorney General’s Office (515-281-5926, or 888-777-4590) and check with the Better Business Bureau. Check to see if a contractor has been sued by unsatisfied customers (or sued them) -- go to www.iowacourts.state.ia.us. Check on a contractor’s registration and bonding (which doesn’t guarantee quality of work) atwww.iowaworkforce.org/labor. Ask for a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate. Be wary of a person or company not listed in the local telephone directory.
- Get several written estimates, choose the best, and get a contract in writing (and don’t forget to read it!). Before work begins, agree on a written contract detailing terms including the work to be done, the brand and/or the specifications of the materials to be used, the price, who is responsible for permits, and that all change orders must be in writing. Put start and completion dates in writing, and the remedies if the contractor fails to meet them. (Example: the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.) If you’re filing an insurance claim to cover the costs of damages, negotiate the details with your insurance company directly and not through a contractor. It’s usually safer and a better deal to obtain financing through your local bank or credit union, rather than a contractor. If you sign a contract somewhere other than the contractor's regular place of business, such as at your home, you have three business days to cancel the contract without penalty. The seller must provide you a written notice in duplicate of your right to cancel.
- Avoid paying large sums or the entire job up-front. If you need to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
- To cancel a sale, sign and date one copy of the cancellation form and mail it to the address given for cancellation. Make sure that the envelope is postmarked by midnight of the third business day following the purchase, or hand-deliver the notice. (Weekends and holidays do not count as business days.) A certified letter is proof of when you mailed your request, and a signed receipt is proof if you hand-delivered your notice.
- If you used a credit card for your purchase, you can contact your credit card company and challenge the charge within 60 days after the date the first bill was mailed to you. Keep in mind that a debit card offers you fewer protections than a credit card.
- Contact local law enforcement officials and the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division if you are victimized by a door-to-door scam or you do not receive a refund you requested.
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