DCA’s Umbrella Has You Covered

National Consumer Protection Week spotlights free resources, programs to help consumers

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Consumers: Do you feel empowered? You will after this week!

The California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is proud to be a partner during the 19th annual National Consumer Protection Week (#NCPW2017), a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. This year, it runs from March 5 through 11, so stay tuned to this blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for great tips all week!

Here are some of the ways DCA helps:

Licensing for protection

We all know someone who’s had a bad experience with an unlicensed or unscrupulous contractor who does sloppy work, lacks proper insurance or takes money upfront and disappears or leaves the job incomplete. That’s why you’ve heard our mantra “check the license” repeatedly, because this is one way consumers can help protect themselves from frauds, scams and financial harm. Licensing tells you that the person you are dealing with has met certain qualifications and levels of competency and offers a remedy if a service is not delivered or work is not acceptable. Through its boards, bureaus, committees and other entities, DCA regulates many industries and the people licensed to work in them.

Check a license or file a complaint against a licensee by calling our Consumer Information Center at (800) 952-5210, or visit www.dca.ca.gov.

Consumer education, enforcement and special programs

Through award-winning consumer publications, social media, blogs, Senior Scam StopperSM events from the Contractors State License Board and other special programs like the Auto Body Inspection Program from the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the Veterans Come First Program from the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, DCA staff educates consumers by giving them the information they need to avoid unscrupulous or unqualified people who promote deceptive or unsafe services.

DCA also advocates consumer interests before lawmakers and enforces consumer laws. Our enforcement staff works with the California Attorney General’s Office and local district attorneys to fight fraud in the marketplace. In fact, many investigations are initiated by consumer complaints. If DCA determines wrongdoing, it can place licensees on probation, or suspend or revoke licenses.

Dispute resolution

When a dispute arises between a customer and a business in certain industries under DCA’s jurisdiction, alternative methods are available for resolving complaints without going to court in which the involved parties can work out a solution with the help of a mediator.

Who we are what we do

Learn more on our website at www.dca.ca.gov or get our publication titled, Who We Are & What We Do. For a free printed copy, call the DCA Publications Hotline at (866) 320-8652. Find more consumer resources at https://oag.ca.gov/, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/, www.ncpw.gov and #NCPW2017.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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.

 

Don’t Let Dry Rot Destroy Your Home

dry picOn June 16 in Berkeley, California, six students died after a balcony they were standing on collapsed. Inspection reports showed that the collapse was caused by dry rot. On July 3 in Folsom, California, a man was killed when a stairway at an apartment complex fell on him.  Dry rot is the suspected cause of the collapse.   Since then, dry rot has become a hot-button issue.

Dry rot is a type of wood-destroying fungi that compromises the structural integrity of wood due to a variety of factors, such as excessive moisture or conditions deemed likely to lead to (or cause) infestation or infection of the wood (e.g. leaking pipes or condensation).

For homeowners with raised, wooden decks and lofts who are also concerned about their safety, there are measures to take that can help to prevent or to repair structural dry rot damage.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION:

  • Regularly inspect your wood deck/loft carefully for cracked, warped or splintered boards to see if they are soft or moist and free from any insect infestation.  If you notice any signs of damage, it may be necessary to contact a licensed professional to determine what repairs, if any, are needed.  Making a small investment early on can save a lot of money and worry down the line.
  • CHECK FOR WATER LEAKAGEMake sure there aren’t any broken water pipes or sprinklers in your yard that allow water to seep under your deck or loft.
  •  WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS TURN TO A PRO: If all this sounds like too much work, you can always hire a licensed professional.  After all, they’re trained to observe and detect things that you might overlook.
  • WHO TO CALL: The Structural Pest Control Board is here to help. If you have questions about a structural pest control company and need to verify their license status, log on to www.pestboard.ca.gov or call (916) 561-8700. You can also contact the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-CSLB (2752) or log on to www.cslb.ca.gov to check the status of a contractor’s license.

CSLB Turns Up the Heat Against HVAC Scams

cslb logoAs the temperatures continue to drop, you’re likely to see ads offering low-cost air duct cleaning services and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) tune-ups. You decide to get some servicing done and the next thing you know, the HVAC contractor says that you need to replace your entire unit.

DCA’s Contractors State License Board (CSLB) says this type of HVAC visit is becoming all too common.

As part of its efforts to curb unethical activity, CSLB seeks to reduce the following predatory practices:

  • Using hard-sell tactics to obtain grossly inflated contracts.
  • Misrepresenting work as urgent, critical, or safety-related.
  • Failing to provide the three-day right to rescind a home improvement contract.
  • Failing to obtain building permits.
  • Lacking workers’ compensation insurance or under-reporting employees.

Take your time before saying “yes” to an HVAC contractor. Prior to hiring a contractor, research the contractor and their services, and follow these guidelines:

  • Make sure the HVAC contractor has a CSLB-issued State license.
  • Visit the Better Business Bureau and CSLB websites to check the contractor’s standing and to find out if there are any pending disputes or disciplinary actions.
  • Get written estimates from at least three companies.
  • Ask questions.
  • Get professional references for each contractor who is bidding on the job.
  • Make sure your contract includes the notice about the three-day right to cancel.
  • Check that the contract spells out that the contractor will obtain building permits and inspections that must be completed by the local building department to meet State energy efficiency laws.
  • Don’t pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB’s website.
  • Don’t pay in cash, and don’t let your payments get ahead of the work.

Visit the CSLB website for more tips, to sign up for e-mail alerts, or to submit a complaint.