Allegheny County Bar Association Releases First Monthly Legal Tips to Better Inform Public

Avoiding Home Repairs Problems and Scams Can Start with Getting References and a Detailed Contract That You Can Understand

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – July 26, 2011. The officers of the Allegheny County Bar Association today released legal tips on how to avoid home repair scams, the first of what will be monthly briefs from the association on a timely legal issue. The legal tips are part of the association’s ramped-up marketing efforts to better inform the general public about the free legal information, assistance, and services available through the bar. In addition to the monthly legal tips, the association plans to promote its free services, educational programs, and brochures through social networking, targeted marketing, the bar’s For the Public and 18 and the Law.org websites, and the continuation of its popular What You Should Know television and radio commercials, which also feature a legal tip.

According to Howard J. Schulberg, President of the Allegheny County Bar Association, “Despite this being the age of immediate access to online information, many individuals still do not know where to turn to get legal information and assistance before a minor legal issue becomes a major one. In addition, computers are not available to everyone, and many of our seniors do not use computers. That is why it is so important for the members of the bar association to do whatever we can to let our residents know that we are a reliable source of legal information. We want to get the word out that there is a lot of important information available through our websites, our Lawyer Referral Service, and the various free legal education programs and publications that we offer.”

Schulberg said this month’s legal tips on avoiding home repair problems and scams are important information for everyone, especially our seniors. “Our attorneys work hard with local law enforcement to help our citizens avoid becoming victims of fraud. There are many reputable and honest home repair contractors, but to guard against dishonest individuals, you should not let anyone rush you into signing a contract, and you should ask for references.”

Schulberg said the bar association regularly receives feedback that shows there is a real need for legal information and assistance. “When our brochures or programs are mentioned in the media, our phone lines are flooded. Through mostly word-of-mouth, our free legal education programs for first graders up to senior citizens are booked months in advance. And during our annual call-in show on KDKA-TV each spring we receive between 1,500 and 2,000 callers.

“Since we have a minimal marketing budget, we want to ensure that we provide help to our area residents when they see one of our What You Should Know commercials or read an article about one of our programs. That is why every single ad, commercial, or press release we produce will include a legal tip.”

Future monthly tips will focus on such areas of the law as how to find a lawyer, bankruptcy, wills and estates, collaborative law, divorce and custody issues, teens and the law, and landlord-tenant issues.

For more information on the Allegheny County Bar Association’s monthly legal tips, visit the association’s For the Public website at www.acba.org, its website for teenagers at 18andthelaw.org, or call its Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.

Chartered in 1870 and headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh, The Allegheny County Bar Association is a professional organization with more than 6,500 member attorneys, judges, district magistrate justices, legal administrators, and paralegals.


Contacts:

Howard J. Schulberg
President
Allegheny County Bar Association
412-281-0587

 

Tom Loftus
Director of Marketing/Media Relations
Allegheny County Bar Association
412-402-6620

 

Allegheny County Bar Association Monthly Legal Tips “How to Avoid Home Repair Problems and Scams”

July 20, 2011

There are many reputable and honest home repair persons and contractors, but, unfortunately, we hear about how dishonest persons prey on innocent homeowners or the elderly, take their hard earned money and leave them stuck with uncompleted repairs and projects.

  • Generally, you will be best served by dealing with local contractors who have an actual place of business and have been recommended by friends, family members, or reputable building supply stores. Be wary of unmarked or out-of-state trucks.
  • If you have been tricked into signing a contract by a door-to-door salesperson, you do have the right to cancel a door-to-door purchase within three days of the purchase if the item sold is for $25.00 or more. The seller has to give you written notice of that right and must tell you that you have the right to cancel. As long as you return whatever goods have been sold to you in the same condition, you are entitled to a refund of the money you have paid out. Keep in mind though that you must be able to find the person who sold you the items and took your money in order to get the refund. This is why it is so important to ensure you are dealing with someone reputable and who has an actual place of business. ALWAYS FEEL FREE TO SAY NO.
  • Be very careful when a contractor or a repair company offers to finance a job. Some home improvement contracts involve the contractor or another lender getting a mortgage on the person’s property as security for the loan. You may also have a contract that is padded with additional charges above and beyond the price you negotiated, or a very high interest rate.
  • The federal Truth in Lending Act requires that you be given notice of the right to cancel any contract where a creditor could take an interest in your home. This means that if you’re using your home as collateral for the loan, you have to be specifically told that this is part of the contract and be given notice that you have the right to cancel this contract within three business days.
  • As with any other contract, make sure you read it carefully before you sign anything. It never hurts to have a second pair of eyes review it. Never sign a blank contract.
  • A contract for home improvements or repair should set out parties’ expectations, rights, and responsibilities. It should specifically list:
  • Names and addresses of both parties (Check to make sure the contractor has an actual address, not a P.O. Box.)
  • A detailed description of ALL work to be done and the materials to be used. Don’t assume you can rely on what the contractor has told you. It must be in the contract.
  • A start date and a completion date
  • Details about the payment arrangements — the amount down, monthly payments, forms of payments accepted
  • Specific responsibilities like clean-up, obtaining any permits necessary, trash disposal, etc.
  • Detailed description of all materials to be used including brand names and model numbers. Make sure that the contract does not allow substitution without your permission. This could allow the contractor to use an inferior product.
  • How much the contractor will charge for any changes being made — i.e. you contract for laminate counter-top and you then choose granite.
  • A penalty clause if the job isn’t completed on time. In this situation there will likely be a bonus clause if the job is completed early.
  • Do not pay the contractor in full before all work is done.

What are some red flags or warning signs that would tell me I should steer clear of a contractor or business?

  • Do not deal with contractors who say they are “in the neighborhood” and have materials left over from another job and offer to give you a lower price. If they’re shorting the materials on the job they’re doing now, they will do it with your job as well.
  • Do not deal with anyone who offers you a low price ONLY if you sign now and commit today. You should always have a chance to think things over and review any paperwork before you sign it.

If you need a referral to an attorney practicing in the area of collections or consumer law, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.