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Editorial: Business in need of watchdog

The driveway paving scam is an old one that still manages to snag unsuspecting victims every spring when hustlers make their way through the Pioneer Valley selling waste oil and slim coats of asphalt through high-pressure, now-or-never deals.

Already this spring, a local elderly resident was scammed out of $1,200 by con artists who knocked on his door and offered to seal his driveway with materials left over from another job.

Workers spent 10 minutes spraying the man’s Longmeadow driveway with waste oil.

The scenario is similar to incidents involving 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 scammers 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.

We’re heartened by state Rep. Stephen D. Kulik’s efforts to fix the problem, which clearly befalls people when they are most vulnerable.

This session, Kulik, a Democrat from Worthington, filed a bill requiring 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 if 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.

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.

We encourage Scibak and Kulik to work together for the passage of legislation that would provide much-needed oversight on the driveway paving industry, which, due to a minority of unscrupulous opportunists, would benefit from that type of monitoring.

Local professional pavers interviewed by the Gazette have said they’d be fine with the registry if it helps consumers.

In the meantime, professionals recommend everyone looking to hire a driveway paver ask to see their insurance certificate up front before any work is done — and before any money changes hands.

Local pavers have seen the terrible aftermath of what happens when people fail to check up on their contractors. One paver told the Gazette about going to one such job on Trumbull Road in Northampton where a crew had paved around a car parked in a driveway — leaving an unpaved rectangle — with a mere half-inch coat of asphalt.

Unlike some other cities and towns, contractors must obtain a local permit in Northampton to do most residential paving work. Kudos to Northampton for taking this initiative, but we hope work on Beacon Hill will lead to the passage of legislation that would help protect all residents of Massachusetts from a crime that’s been allowed for far too long.

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