Official sounds alarm over roofing activity

In an effort to help protect their constituents, local officials are investigating after residents raised concerns over roofing contractor solicitations in the community.

State Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, is investigating constituent concerns about roofing contractor solicitations in The Villages. These contractors are approaching homeowners, claiming their homes have roof damage and then persuading homeowners to sign over their rights to file a claim against their insurance company, Hage said. It’s a practice known as “assignment of benefits,” and the target of incremental legislative reform signed into law in 2019. “What’s happening in The Villages, residents are arbitrarily assigning their insurance benefits for roofing work to roofing companies,” said Hage, who represents District 33 in the state House of Representatives. “The bigger issue is that

it is happening, but people are not reporting it.”

Additionally, The Villages has a no door-to-door solicitation policy, in addition to a possible consumer protection risk.

Homeowners face the potential for a costly mistake if they assign insurance benefits to a third party, said Steve Renico, a regional director with Seniors vs. Crime, a program of the Florida Attorney General’s Office.

“I have seen instances where they had a roof replaced, but the insurance company won’t pay the contractor the full amount of the claim,” said Renico, of the Village of Hadley. “Then the homeowner gets billed for the difference.”

The latest available construction data supports their concern, too.

Reroofing permits in Sumter County grew threefold during the first eight months of this year over all of last year, according to a review of Building Services Department data. Construction value of those permits grew at an even greater rate.

The county issued 3,530 reroofing permits through Aug. 31 this year, compared with 1,273 for the entire year ended Dec. 31, 2019. In 2018, the county issued only 680 reroofing permits.

Homeowners must realize that assignment of benefits is a binding contract between a homeowner and a roofing contractor, Hage said.

“It’s got to come to a stop,” Hage said. “Residents must be forthright in their decision-making. We’ve got people trying to scam us, and consumer protection is a big deal to this state representative. As a state representative, my top priorities are, one, balancing the state budget and, two, protecting the health, safety and welfare of my constituents.”

The issue with assignment of benefits boils down to basic protections that consumers must take with any contractual obligation, Renico said.

“Some of these companies are going around door to door,” he said. “It’s not illegal. Is it criminal? No. These are contract issues, and you need to know the particulars.”

Florida law permits consumers to cancel an assignment of benefits contract within 14 days of signing it, according to the Florida Division of Consumer Services.

“Consumers who are approached regarding unsolicited repairs to their home should contact their insurer before signing any agreement,” said Karen Rees, a spokeswoman for the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

Recision of an assignment of benefits contract must be made in writing, and Renico recommends sending the contractor a certified letter.

“The truism is that the big print in the contract giveth away, and small print takes away,” he said. “It’s just like anything else, like hiring a landscaper. If there’s a contact, you need to read the contract. If you enter into a contract and have second thoughts, you need to know what the contract says.”

Senior writer David R. Corder can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.