Legislation would safeguard consumers from paving fraud
Cody Judd, a employee of Zak's construction Service does the preliminary work before paving a driveway on Sunset Ave in Easthampton Thursday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
David Brakey, a employees of Zak's construction Service does the preliminary work before paving a driveway on Sunset Ave in Easthampton Thursday morning. Purchase photo reprints »
David Brakey, left, and Cody Judd, both employees of Zak's Construction Service, prepare for driveway paving on Sunset Avenue in Easthampton recently.
Below the surface
CAROL LOLLIS Purchase photo reprints »
NORTHAMPTON — With paving season in full swing, state Rep. Stephen D. Kulik believes the time is right for lawmakers to approve a bill he’s pushing to regulate residential pavers.
Already this spring, one elderly resident in the area has been scammed by con artists knocking on his door offering to seal his driveway with materials left over from another job. The men spent 10 minutes spraying the man’s driveway in Longmeadow with waste oil and then left with a $1,200 check, which they immediately cashed at a local bank, according to police in that town.
The scenario mirrors those of elderly residents of Easthampton, Northampton, Southampton, Williamsburg, Chesterfield and Worthington, who in 2010 caved in to pressure tactics and turned over tens of thousands of dollars to a band of rogue pavers who left behind a trail of shoddy workmanship and angry customers.
One of those victims was a former police chief and stroke survivor who paid $7,500 for a half-inch layer of asphalt rolled over an existing driveway. The Gazette last week inspected a driveway of a residence on Rick Drive in Northampton that is riddled with cracks only a few years after a fast-moving, smooth-talking crew slapped down a layer of asphalt and bilked an elderly couple out of thousands of dollars.
“If it’s a fly-by-night company and they disappear and there’s no identification, it’s very hard to have any recourse,” Kulik said last week. “It would be nice to get some action on this bill while the construction season is under way.”
“I don’t see who could be against this,” he added.
Kulik’s bill would require residential pavers to register as home improvement contractors with the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations. As in other states, such legislation would regulate residential pavers so that consumers have recourse to seek compensation or restitution if something goes wrong during construction or they are victims of deceptive business practices.
When contractors register with the state, they must make a contribution to a Guaranty Fund, which can reimburse consumers when problems arise.
Ultimately, consumers must be aware and informed about who they are dealing with before authorizing home improvement work, say those in the industry.
This is the second consecutive year Kulik has filed the bill, but he now has an ally in state Rep. John W. Scibak, D-South Hadley. Earlier this year, Scibak was appointed House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, which is expected to hold a hearing on the paving bill soon.
“Without licensing, it’s difficult to go after an individual,” Scibak said. “I can’t see any obvious reason why there would be resistance.”
Scibak said the bill provides a layer of consumer protection, but does not create a burden for the residential paving industry in terms of annual registration fees.
“Given just that one case alone, we have to look seriously at this,” said Scibak, referring to the waste oil case in Longmeadow a few weeks ago.
Local, reputable paving companies say sham pavers who scam homeowners are a persistent thorn in their side.
“These guys are giving us all a bad name,” said Tom Fenton, general manager of Duffy Willard Paving & Excavating in Northampton, which warns customers of paving scams in its own advertising. “A reputable paver is not going to go door to door.”
Like other local pavers interviewed, Fenton said his company has been contacted by homeowners over the years seeking assistance with poor driveway paving jobs done by shady operators.
“It’s always after the fact and after the damage has been done,” he said.
He recalled going to one such job on Trumbull Road in Northampton where a crew had paved around a car parked in a driveway with a mere half-inch coat of asphalt.
“They left a rectangle,” he said of the unpaved area where the car had been parked.
Unlike some other cities and towns, contractors must obtain a local permit in Northampton to do most residential paving work. Fenton said he welcomes the regulatory measures Kulik is proposing and believes any reputable paver would abide by them.
“It can do nothing but help us,” he said.
Greg Zakrzewski, owner of Zak’s Construction Services in Easthampton recalled helping an elderly woman on Brickyard Road who had been scammed by a transient paving crew a few years ago. He described the work they did as “horrible.”
“I felt sorry for the lady,” Zakrzewski said. “A lot of these guys use high-pressure sales tactics. I think they caught her at a weak moment.”
Zakrzewski said a homeowner should always ask for an insurance certificate up front from any contractor seeking to do work for them.
“Most of my customers ask for an insurance certificate, and we don’t have a problem with that,” he said.
He said adding registration fees to the paving industry is not ideal, but if it gives consumers another avenue of protection, then he’s OK with it.
Those who dealt with the paving scam artists who swept through the area a few years ago are still scratching their heads about the quality of the work in their driveways — and irked by the financial losses.
“We’re afraid to put any extra weight on the driveway,” said Peggy Clark, who paid $4,500 for a two-hour driveway paving job on Torrey Street in Easthampton in 2010.
In her case, a gypsy crew paved more than Clark and her husband, Edwin, had expected and talked their way out of giving them a final cost until they were done. Edwin Clark had driven to a local bank with them to get cash for the work and the crew scrammed once they got the money.
Peggy Clark said she fully supports the consumer protections Kulik seeks to get on the state’s books.
“If somebody’s going to come in and do business, they should be licensed in Massachusetts,” she said. “People should be able to have a little bit of confidence in who they hire.”
Dan Crowley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.