NEWARK—As consumers prepare their homes for colder weather, the Division of Consumer Affairs is advising homeowners to be alert for frauds involving repairs to chimneys.
The division received 24 consumer complaints related to chimney and fireplace repairs between September 2008 and August 2009.
“Fall is the busy season for cleaning chimneys and removing creosote generated by wood-burning fireplaces. It’s also the time of year when consumers should be cautious when someone offers to check their chimney and make repairs,” said David Szuchman, consumer affairs director.
Anyone offering to perform chimney repairs must be registered as a home improvement contractor under state law. Chimney sweeps who only clean chimneys and do not perform repairs are not required to register as home improvement contractors.
Consumers can check whether someone is registered through the Division of Consumer Affairs web site, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll-free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200. The web site is searchable by name of the contractor and a ‘search by town’ feature allows consumers to locate contractors in their community.
Consumers must be given a written contract that specifies the work to be performed, the materials that will be used and the total price, for any home improvement project costing more than $500.
“It’s always a good idea to obtain more than one bid,” Szuchman said. “Multiple bids allow consumers to verify that different contractors are finding the same type of problem when each performs an inspection,” he noted.
Consumers should be alert to the following scenarios as possible scams:
- Someone comes unsolicited to your home, offers to do a free inspection of your chimney and offers a “special deal” to fix an alleged problem
- Someone claims to be “working in the neighborhood” and has leftover supplies to repair your chimney but the work has to be done right away
- Someone is unwilling to show you the problem area and explain the problem in detail
A consumer has the right to cancel a home improvement contract within 72 hours of signing the contract, under state law. A consumer should not feel pressured into allowing work to begin immediately.
Consumers who have limited mobility and cannot climb ladders should be cautious about claims of loose bricks or missing mortar if someone goes onto their roof to inspect the chimney.
Consumers also should make sure all required permits have been issued by their municipal construction code office prior to the contractor beginning work.
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