Need cash? Slap a magnet sign on your truck and say you’re a roofer. Forget the roof. This is Texas

What happens after a monster storm? Storm chasers appear from who knows where and enchant desperate homeowners who need a new roof from the first insurance check. Then it’s time to say goodbye forever.

Texas is the only storm-prone state on the Gulf Coast where storm-chasing roofers have no paperwork to deal with. This is embarrassing for Texas, and especially for the governor and our legislature, who could both easily solve this longstanding problem. Their inaction makes crime flourish.

Unlike hair clippers and plumbers and towing companies, no roofing license is required. No certification is required. There isn’t even a government sponsored website that offers a list of names, addresses, and phone numbers of well-known honest and reliable roofers.

This type of theft happens every day of the year in Texas, and now at least one person says enough is enough.

State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas, submitted Senate Bill 1481 calling for a registration system for roofing companies operating after a storm. For a minimal fee, these storm chasers would be listed on a state website.

The senator says, “You give someone $ 10,000 and you can’t see if they’re state-registered and have a contact number.”

It’s noteworthy that he mentions $ 10,000 because I spoke to Joe Dickens of Arlington this week, who gave that amount to his roofing company. Then the roofers said goodbye forever. No roof for him.

“He took the money and ran away, okay?” Dickens says of the former owner of House of Tomorrow, Jorge Garcia.

Dickens is still bitter about falling victim to a huge scheme involving more than 100 homeowners in Dallas, Arlington, and Forth Worth. The victims lost a total of $ 500,000 to lost insurance claims.

For both Dickens and me, this is a very personal matter. We’ve both found that storm chasing roofers often act like they are members of a criminal syndicate. In fact, my experience as a roofer changed my life.

The first roofer I hired after a hailstorm 15 years ago was confused and roofed over the house behind me instead of mine. He still tried to get my shocked neighbor to pay.

The second roofer I hired fixed my roof, but then went bankrupt, leaving nearly a hundred other customers without a roof. He was convicted of theft and was imprisoned.

After that experience, I have investigated what went wrong and what I can do to prevent it from happening. That’s why I started a consumer rights movement called Watchdog Nation to show us how we can protect ourselves. I was my own test case and so this experience changed my life.

Since then, I’ve seen storm chasers get their drawbacks out of the way and nothing is done. This is considered normal in Texas and was reflected in an insightful video recently released by the Texas Department of Insurance. The video entitled “Winter Storm Webinar” is available on YouTube. It should be an introduction to dealing with insurance claims like burst water pipes caused by the February storms.

But something surprising happened in this video. The public shifted the discussion away from burst pipes to asking for advice on how to find honest roofers.

The hashtags for the video are #insurance #storm #disaster. But they should be changed to #roofs #fraud #disaster. Here are the public’s questions and the insurance department’s answers.

Do contractors need to be licensed in Texas? (No.)

Is there any way I can tell if a contractor was involved in a fraud? (Nothing official.)

Is it okay to ask for the driver’s license? (Brilliant idea.)

Is there a place I can get information about my contractor to put my mind at ease? (Check search engines to put the roofer in the background.)

Is there a directory that we can use to find good contractors? (Again, nothing official.)

How can we prevent unsolicited phone calls and roofers from coming to my door? (The calls are illegal and little can be done. For door knockers, TDI says, ask their attorney’s permission. If they don’t, call the police.)

How can I check a criminal background on a contractor and his employees? (Try a paid website.)

These questions can help you understand what the public is talking about. All of this could be resolved with Sen. Johnson’s Senate Bill 1481 and his companion in House Bill 2777.

The invoices require roofers (those who repair existing roofs) to register their company name with contact information. Any bad behavior would be reported. Violation could result in a civil penalty of US $ 500.

But the same lawmaker who killed the Roofers Act in 2019 has told the state’s roofers association it will do it again.

Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, stepped on the bill two years ago like it was a snake trying to bite him.

Romero wasn’t going to speak to The Watchdog this week. But in 2019, when I profiled his pounding, he told me one reason he objected was that the author of the bill was not a contractor. “It really has to be a contractor,” he said. (Did I mention Romero is a contractor?)

The truth is that anyone can bring in a bill. But thanks to Romero, the bill lost a 99-33 vote in the House of Representatives two years ago. Since then, more Texans have been ripped off. I blame him.

Sarah Burns, who heads the Roofing Contractors Association of Texas, told me Romero had “already made it clear that he wanted to do the same at this meeting.”

Before Burns spoke to me, she said she had been on the phone with a homeowner in San Antonio.

“You hired the cheap guy,” she said, “and now they have a $ 40,000 metal roof and it’s leaking all over the place. You have to move out. “

If you are wondering why this registry is such a problem, it plays in the strongly pushed notion of Governor Greg Abbott and others that we should not do anything that harms business. And what about consumers? Meh.

“I understand we like Texas,” says Burns. “We’re here because we don’t want government in our business. But unfortunately this is a situation with no recourse to consumers. “

Johnson says his law stands a chance this year because the October 2019 Dallas tornado brought additional attention to the crime series. His bill is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Committee on Economics and Commerce. (Would you like to help? Call Chair Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, and say, “Let’s go on SB 1481.” His office is 512-463-0109.)

The similar House Bill 2777 could use your help as well. It is stuck in the House Business & Industry Committee, where chairman Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, issued a statement to The Watchdog stating, “As for this specific measure, I have not reviewed it, but I support efforts to reform the roofing industry to better protect consumers. ”(Would you like to help? Apply HB 2777 for a hearing. Turner’s office is: 512-463-0574.)

Do you remember our victim, Dickens? Other victims weren’t as lucky as the Arlington homeowner who lost $ 10,000. NBC5 reported on its plight. That changed everything.

“You won’t believe that,” he says. “Then a roofing company contacted me. There was a good Samaritan. He donated my roof. I don’t know who this person was, but I would like to sit down, shake his hand and have a cup of coffee with him. “

What an embarrassment. It takes an unknown angel to make amends for what the Texan legislature will not do for its own people.

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The Dallas Morning News Watchdog column is the 2019 National Society of Newspaper Columnists Grand Prize Winner for Column Writing. The competition jury named his winning entries “Models for Exciting Storytelling and Public Service.”

Read his winning columns:

* Help the widow of Officer JD Tippit, the Dallas police officer who was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, be buried next to her late husband

* Help a waitress injured by an unscrupulous used car dealer

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