The Rain is Back—So are the Cons

GUERNEVILLE, CA - JANUARY 11: A resident paddles his kayak through floodwaters in Guerneville. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

GUERNEVILLE, CA – JANUARY 11: A resident paddles his kayak through floodwaters in Guerneville. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California had a weather event last week. And whatever the forecasters called it—Atmospheric River, Pineapple Express, La Niña—it meant that a lot of water came crashing down on California, causing floods, mudslides, avalanches, and other water-related havoc on a state that has, in the past 5 years, experienced historically low levels of precipitation.

And just when homeowners are starting to see things dry up a bit, the rain is back again this week to serve up another round of chaos.

Don’t get Californians wrong—we are grateful that the drought may be over.

Unfortunately, there are others who are grateful for the weather for another reason—they wait for disasters like this to con homeowners into giving them money. They promise a quick solution to help disaster victims clean up, then take the money and run.

A tree lands on a house in Forestville on January 9. (Photo: ABC7/Laura Anthony)

A tree lands on a house in Forestville on January 9. (Photo: ABC7/Laura Anthony)

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning homeowners not to take the bait. Check a contractor’s license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling (800) 321-CSLB (2752). Here are a few tips from CSLB to help keep you out of a scam:

  • Get at least three bids.
  • Make sure all project expectations are in writing and only sign the contract if you completely understand the terms. Never sign a blank contract!
  • Confirm that the contractor has workers’ compensation insurance for employees.
  • Never pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less. Don’t pay in cash.
  • Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the job.
  • Your contractor must notify you of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract

There is another group of criminals posing as door-to-door home repair contractors who operate all year long. These scammers, which CSLB refers to as“traveling contractors,” rip off homeowners with painting, paving, and roofing scams. Fortunately for consumers, they are usually easy to spot—if you know what to look for. Check out CSLB’s Traveling Contractor Scams tip sheet for a list of red flags.

Another thing to remember: If you’re going through your insurance provider for repairs, the provider may require that you use a certain contractor, so make sure to call first and find out.

California’s New Laws for 2017

scalesIn 2016, Governor Brown signed into law 898 pieces of legislation. Here’s a sampling of some of the new state laws:

Barbering and booze: Under Assembly Bill (AB) 1322, Board of Barbering and Cosmetology-licensed beauty salons and barbershops can serve up to 12 ounces of beer or 6 ounces of wine to customers without having an alcoholic beverage license or permit. The businesses cannot charge for the alcohol.

Building construction: Senate Bill (SB) 465 requires the California Department of Industrial Relations and the Division of Occupational Safety and Health to tell the Contractors State License Board when the state punishes disobedient contractors.

Gun laws: SB 880 and AB 1135 ban the sale of semi-automatic, centerfire rifles or semi-automatic pistols that do not have a fixed magazine. AB 1511 outlaws most gun loans.

Sexual assault: AB 2888 mandates a prison term for sexually assaulting unconscious individuals. This legislation is the result of a reaction to the jail sentence of a Stanford student who assaulted an unconscious woman and received a jail sentence in June 2016, but was released in September.

Distracted driving: Under AB 1785, drivers cannot hold or operate their devices for any reason. Exceptions are functions that require only a single swipe or tap of the driver’s finger, as long as the phone is mounted in the car.

Car seats: AB 53 requires that children under 2 years old be put in rear-facing child safety seats, except for kids who are at least 40 pounds or 40 inches tall. Children under 8 years old must ride in the back seat of a car.

Voter registration and ballots: AB 1436, which passed in 2012 but takes effect January 1, allows people to register on the day of an election. SB 450 allows voters to return mail ballots at any county elections office in the state, not just the county that issued the ballot.

Dogs in cars: AB 797 allows good Samaritans to help free animals showing signs of distress in a hot car. They must first contact law enforcement and wait for them to show up.

Gender-neutral bathrooms: AB 1732 requires that all single-toilet restrooms in schools, businesses, and public places be designated as gender neutral.

Minimum wage increase: SB 3 raises the minimum wage for workers at businesses that have 26 or more employees from $10 to $10.50 per hour. Yearly increases under the law will bump the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.

Uber/Lift background checks: Under AB 1289, drivers for ride-booking companies will have their entire driver’s record checked.

Terminally ill and the “Right to Try”: AB 1668 allows terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs that have not yet had full federal approval for clinical trials.

For more details on California’s new laws, visit the Governor’s website at www.gov.ca.gov. For a list of all the new laws, go to www.leginfo.ca.gov/pdf/BillsEnactedReport2016.pdf.

 

 

 

Annual Furnace Tune-ups Can Help Improve Comfort and Efficiency

As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling, so makingshutterstock_70184671 smart decisions about your home’s heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills and your comfort, according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.

That’s why caring for your HVAC system is an important step to help avoid costly repairs or complete breakdowns at inopportune times, such as when everyone’s over for a holiday dinner. A cleaned, lubricated, and properly adjusted furnace runs more efficiently and uses less energy, and furnace manufacturers typically include language in their product warranties requiring proper maintenance to ensure coverage. Most importantly, an improperly working system could be a safety hazard.

Energy Star says a typical maintenance check-up should include the following:

  • Checking thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • Tightening all electrical connections and measuring voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricating all moving parts to prevent friction in motors, which increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • Checking and inspecting the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
  • Checking controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation, and checking the starting cycle of the equipment to ensure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Checking all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.

DIY maintenance includes inspecting, cleaning, or changing air filters once a month in your furnace and/or heat pump—ask your HVAC contractor to show you how if you don’t already know. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

If it’s time to replace your equipment, ask neighbors, friends, and family for HVAC contractor recommendations. Check the status of the contractor’s license with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov. And don’t be pressured into buying a new system, especially if it’s unnecessary. CSLB has issued warnings about upselling scams. Before replacing your system, read CSLB’s guidelines.

For more tips on how to heat and cool efficiently, visit https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac.

 

 

How to Avoid the Con Game After a Disaster

California is in the middle of fire season. Already this year, thousands of acres have burned and hundreds of homes and structures have been damaged or destroyed, leaving some facing the huge task of rebuilding and trying to salvage what was lost.

Fortunately, having to rebuild after a disaster is not something that’s done everyday. Unfortunately, scams run as rampant through disaster areas after the fires as the flames did while the fires were burning. Fake contractors and cons are counting on the shock of the emergency and the desire to rebuild as soon as possible to take the money and run.

cslb-erskine-fire-kern-county-250-structures-damaged

Signs posted by CSLB staff at the Erskine fire in Kern County warn consumers and cons alike. The fire damaged approximately 250 structures. —Photo courtesy of CSLB

Little do the cons know they are being watched—by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). CSLB is one of the first state agencies to arrive on the scene after a natural disaster, meeting with consumers and providing them with educational materials and information that will help them spot and avoid a scam. Besides in-person meetings, CSLB posts signs around the disaster area like the ones in the photo above, warning consumers to check the license and telling unlicensed contractors that they are not welcome.

CSLB utilizes many different methods to assist disaster victims, including public service announcements for local television and radio stations, undercover sweeps and sting operations, participating in local assistance centers, and more.

Consumer information and assistance is also available in many different formats on the CSLB’s Disaster Help Center. There, consumers can access audio podcasts, watch the CSLB video Rebuilding After a Natural Disaster, and access several different publications dealing with disasters and scams, and tips on how to choose a contractor. The website also hosts one of the most important tools for consumers—instant license check. Consumers can also check the license and obtain information by calling CSLB’s toll-free number, (800) 321-CSLB (2752).

Get it While it’s Hot: Check out the Summer Issue of Consumer Connection

Summer’s not over yet. There’s still time to take a road trip to one of California’s manyConsumer connection summer 2016 state parks. From beaches and deserts to redwood forests and mountain summits, California parks offer a variety of amazing and beautiful sites to explore. The Consumer Connection article “Time for a Road Trip!” details 10 state parks—including Angel Island, Marshall Gold Discovery, Humboldt Redwoods, and Crystal Cove—to consider for your next destination, and ways to make sure your car is as ready for the trip as you are.

Also inside this issue is an article about the recently enacted California End of Life Option Act. The new law provides legal guidelines on how terminally ill adults can choose to die in a humane and dignified manner.

Readers will also find features about the recent trend of more Americans choosing to rent instead of buying a home, dealing with the repo man, the dangers of DIY braces, wills versus living trusts, the dangers of buying from a rogue online pharmacy, and more.

To download or read DCA’s award-winning Consumer Connection magazine, visit the DCA website. You can also pick up a printed copy in the DCA Headquarters lobby at 1625 North Market Boulevard in Sacramento. Or, to have a copy mailed to you at no charge, call (866) 320-8652 or send an e-mail request to consumerconnection@dca.ca.gov. Get connected!

 

It’s Remodeling Season: What You Need to Know Going In

shutterstock_70184671Warm weather makes newly painted walls dry faster, projects less likely to be rain-delayed and spawns desire for that outdoor kitchen. But before you put big bucks towards a better abode, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) reminds you to do your due diligence before hiring any contractor to perform work in or on your home.

While most contractors are honest, hard-working professionals, consumers must always protect themselves from unlicensed, unscrupulous contractors who prey on them. You’d never buy a car without thoroughly researching it; do the same before investing in your home. Here are some tips from CSLB:

  • Check the license: For your protection, hire only state-licensed contractors. Verify a license by calling CSLB toll-free at (800) 321-CSLB (2752) or visit cslb.ca.gov. Any contractor doing $500 or more in work (including materials and labor) must be licensed by CSLB to work in California. Confirm that your contractor carries general liability insurance and workers’ compensation insurance for employees that might be working in your home. Otherwise, you could be liable for their injuries.
  • Get at least three bids: Obtain at least three price estimates and ask for references on work the contractor has completed locally. Check out the finished projects in person if possible.
  • Get it in writing: In California, there must be a written contract for all home improvement projects over $500 in combined labor and materials costs.Contractors cannot ask for a deposit of more than 10 percent of the total cost for the job or $1,000, whichever is less. Ask for a current list of contact information for not only the contractor, but also the subcontractors and suppliers.
  • Manage the project and monitor payments: Never pay in cash and don’t let payments get ahead of the work. Keep all receipts, and don’t make the final payment until you’re completely satisfied with the finished job.

CSLB’s quick and comprehensive video is a must-see for those about to undertake home-improvement projects: www.cslb.ca.gov/Consumers/Hire_A_Contractor/Do_It_Right_Video.aspx

Also keep in mind the recent State Civil Code law change—effective January 2014—that requires anyone applying for a building permit that will alter or improve a single-family residence built in 1994 or earlier to replace all plumbing fixtures with water-saving designs. Replacement is a condition of receiving final permit approval from a local building department. In an Industry Bulletin published for contractors, CSLB clarified that building permits issued for property maintenance and repairs (such as re-roofing, water heater replacement, window replacement and some others as determined by the State Building Code) do not trigger the new requirements. Be sure to check all the details here: www.cslb.ca.gov/Media_Room/Industry_Bulletins/2014/January_17.aspx.

Should you really have a yearly furnace tune-up?

In a word, yes.

Proper maintenance of your heating system performed by a qualified heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning (HVAC) contractor is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent future problems, according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency. Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating and cooling system inefficiency and failure.

shutterstock_27344146

A cleaned, lubricated, and properly adjusted furnace runs more efficiently and uses less energy, and regular maintenance and inspections can help prevent more costly repairs later on. Furnace manufacturers typically include language in their product warranties requiring proper maintenance to ensure coverage. Most importantly, an improperly working system could be a safety hazard. Energy Star recommends having a qualified HVAC technician come in and do at least the following:

  • Check all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion, and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.
  • Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components. Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increase the amount of electricity you use.
  • Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Check thermostat settings to ensure the system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.

Maintenance you can do yourself includes inspecting, cleaning, or changing air filters once a month in your furnace and/or heat pump. Your HVAC contractor can show you how to do this. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

Ask neighbors, friends, and family for HVAC contractor recommendations. Check the contractor’s license before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov. HVAC contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it’s best to check the heating system in the fall, but it’s never too late.

Home Safety Tips for Fireplaces and Chimneys

In all the flurry of the holiday season, you may not be thinking about your chimney, but it’s important not to neglect this area of your home. Here’s why:

The latest U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission report on residential structure fires shows that more than 21,000 unwanted blazes were attributed to fireplaces, chimneys, or chimney systems in 2012. The report, issued in 2015, also said that fires involving fireplaces, chimneys, or chimney connections resulted in 20 deaths in 2012, 60 injuries, and an estimated $93.6 million in residential property loss. Confined fires—those fireplace_44148973confined to chimneys, flues or fuel burners—accounted for 84 percent of home heating fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, an entity of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, which recommends having your chimney or fireplace professionally inspected—and cleaned if necessary—every year to prevent these catastrophes.

Major causes of chimney fires include overloading the fire, damage to the fireplace such as missing bricks, obstructed flues, ignition of nearby combustibles, and flying sparks.

Prevention of chimney fires is only one—although critical—reason to keep up fireplace maintenance. You also want to ensure that it continues to vent properly to the outside and blockages (including bird nests) are removed that could cause carbon monoxide to enter your home rather than going up and out through the flue. Almost all heating appliances, whether they burn gas, oil, wood or coal, rely on the chimney to safely carry toxic gases produced by the heating system out of the house.

Prolonged water exposure can also be an issue, resulting in cracks or gaps in chimneys where creosote can collect and increase the risk of fire or where noxious gases can escape into your home.

When hiring a professional chimney sweep to maintain your chimney, ask neighbors, friends, and family for referrals and check the company’s status with the Better Business Bureau. The Chimney Safety Institute of America (CSIA) recommends using a certified chimney sweep, because these professionals have passed an intensive examination based on fire codes, clearances and standards for the construction and maintenance of chimneys and venting systems. CSIA maintains a database—searchable by zip code—to help you find local qualified chimney sweeps (www.csia.org/search). CSIA is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to chimney and venting system safety and certifies industry professionals.

Remember that a chimney sweep who performs only cleaning and inspection does not need to be licensed by the Contractors State License Board. However, if an inspection reveals that your chimney needs bricks replaced or any other repair, the person who does the repair work does need to be licensed. Check the contractor’s license before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov.

Time To Prepare Your Home For Winter

homeguttersleavesBy now we’ve all heard the warnings from weather forecasters that this winter could be the wettest and harshest yet for California due to the “El Niño” phenomenon.

But just what is “El Niño” and how will it impact Californians?

According to Mark Finan, Chief Meteorologist at KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento, there are a few misconceptions people have about “El Niño.”

For starters, “El Niño” isn’t a storm,” said Finan. “There’s no such thing as an “El Niño” storm.  “El Niño” is really a climate pattern. When water is warmer or colder than average, it alters the jet stream and can increase the chances of a wet winter.”

Finan added that while drought-stricken California needs a “wet winter,” there’s just no way of knowing exactly how much precipitation the Golden State will get.

“Southern California has a better than average chance–nearly 90 percent–of having a wetter winter this year”, said Finan. “It’s an area that is also prone to major mudslides. The Sacramento area and Central Valley is much different.  We have to contend with flooding.”

Whatever the course, Finan maintains consumers shouldn’t underestimate the threat of “El Niño.”

In other words, be prepared.

“Take the same precautions to protect your home and property like you’d normally do each winter,” said Finan. “That means clean out the gutters, downspouts, insulate exposed pipes, seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors, trim overgrown trees and inspect your roof for loose or missing shingles.”

And by all means, don’t wait until the last minute. The time to act is now, especially since several roofing companies and gutter repair businesses say they are swamped with service calls from anxious consumers.

However, don’t panic and rush into hiring just anyone to do work around your home.  Be aware of unlicensed, fly-by-night, handyman services. They may be looking to take advantage of homeowners who need to have repairs done quickly and they may do shoddy work or no work at all.  Remember, by law, repairs that cost more than $500 must be performed by a licensed contractor. Don’t be left out in the cold. To protect yourself and your property, always hire a reputable, licensed contractor.

The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) is a great resource that allows consumers to check the status of a contractor’s license by either calling the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-CSLB (2752) or logging online to www.cslb.ca.gov.

Here are some additional tips to help prepare your home for winter.

  • POWER UP: Invest in a back-up generator, particularly if you live in an area that’s susceptible to power outages.
  • KEEP AN EMERGENCY KIT HANDY: It should contain flashlights, blankets, bottled water, insurance documents (stored on a thumb drive) and other family contact information.
  • CONSIDER PURCHASING FLOOD INSURANCE: Even if you don’t live in a “Flood Risk” zone, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

 

BEWARE OF UNLICENSED CONTRACTORS

If you’re considering doing renovations on your home, it pays to do some research on the company you plan to hire. We’ve all heard the horror stories about people who have had bad contractor experiences, whether it’s sloppy workmanship, cost overruns or even worse, a contractor who takes your money upfront and doesn’t return to do any work whatsoever.

contractor blog photo

What can you do to protect yourself from phony contractors and not get ripped off?

The first and most important thing, says Steve Breen, a spokesperson for the Contractors State License Board, is to hire a licensed contractor. “You’re at a greater risk of being exposed to shoddy or even dangerous work by hiring an unlicensed contractor,” Breen says. “So we really warn consumers—especially seniors who are often targeted–to not just take a contractor’s word that they are licensed, but to also check their credentials thoroughly.”

Breen says contracting without a license can carry a penalty of up to $5,000 and up to six months in jail for first-time offenders. Contractors who also fail to mention in advertisements that they are licensed can be fined up to $1,000.

The Contractors State License Board’s website, cslb.ca.gov, provides consumers quick and easy access to check a contractor’s credentials and license history .

Here are a few additional tips to consider when hiring a contractor.

    • NO PRESSURE—Watch for contractors who use pressure tactics such as “limited time offers” that require you to make hasty decisions and hire them on the spot.
    • SAY WHAT? –Never enter into a verbal agreement with a contractor. Get all the work you’re requesting in writing just in case disputes arise. You should never pay a contractor the total amount for services up front. In California, contractors are only entitled to deposits of 10 percent of the total cost of the job or $1,000—whichever is less—unless the contractor has a special bond.
    • KEEP YOUR CASH–If a contractor insists you pay with cash, beware. Always pay for your services with a check or credit card. This protects you in case the contractor botches the job and or fails to complete the work. In addition, you can call your bank and put a stop payment on a check and depending on your bank/credit card provider, cancel the payment and have it refunded back to you.
    • CLICK OR CALL CSLB–For more information about hiring licensed contractors, check out the CSLB website or call 1- 800-321-CSLB (2752). You also can sign up for CSLB email alerts.