As the clean-up after Tropical Cyclone Ita gets underway, homeowners and business owners in affected areas are being warned to watch out for unscrupulous conmen offering to help with urgent repair and restoration work.
In a statement release on Monday, State Minister for Housing and Public Works Tim Mander warned residents that ‘travelling conmen’ – unscrupulous and usually unlicensed people who typically take large sums of money up-front, often overcharge and leave property owners with unfinished or shoddy work - are known to show up on doorsteps following natural disasters and were likely to try their luck again this time around.
Urging residents to take advantage of a free online license search facility on the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC) website as well as an advice hotline, Mander said QBCC staff would arrive in affected areas as soon as possible to provide advice about the rebuilding process.
“Unscrupulous, unlicensed individuals often show up after a natural disaster to take advantage of vulnerable residents and perform dodgy, uninsured building work” he said.
The latest warning comes amid more general efforts on the part of agencies around Australia to crack down on unlicensed tradespeople who do not abide by standard building contracts.
In Central New South Wales, a significant win was scored last week when ‘bitumen bandit’ William Barr was fined almost $80,000 by a local court in Parkes for his actions in cold calling a business in December last year and telling the owner he could seal the car park for $16 per square meter using leftover bitumen.
When the owner returned a day later following a verbal agreement, he found Barr had sealed a much larger area than had been agreed and was demanding payment of $12,480 plus GST. A subsequent inspection following a dispute over costs found the work to be sub-standard.
Barr was convicted for failure to provide termination details on an unsolicited agreement, failing to comply with requirements for unsolicited agreements and supplying or accepting payment within the 10 day cooling off period for unsolicited work.
In Queensland, meanwhile, warnings about a number of shonky operators continue to emerge – the latest one involving unlicensed contractor Richard Keily (who also goes under a number of aliases), who is alleged to have taken upfront deposits for work relating to building (including roof restorations such as ridge pointing, tiling and painting), concreting, boulder walls, pergola construction, paving and retaining walls in the Brisbane suburbs of Kallangur, Albany Creek, Aspley and Chermside and not returning to complete the work.
Whilst potentially striking anywhere, travelling conmen are particularly common following natural disasters.
When cyclone Oswald hit in January 2013, for example, the Master Builders Association of Queensland said it received numerous reports of random people turning up on doorsteps making unsolicited offers for work.