A state law intended to help protect Oklahomans from shoddy roofers isn't working.
Those in the industry say it's simply not a deterrent, and there are plenty of recent victims whose stories seem to back that up.
In the wake of the powerful May storms that ravaged Moore and other locations in central Oklahoma, the state insurance department's anti-fraud team kept a high profile. With so much attention -- local and national -- on storm victims, the state made an extra effort to keep people from being victimized a second time.
They were trying to make sure that the roofers soliciting business in the Moore disaster zone, not only were registered with the city of Moore, but also with the state, as required by the Roofing Contractor Registration Act.
"It's a lot easier to prevent fraud than it is to detect it and prosecute it afterwards," said Michael Copeland, director of OID's anti-fraud unit.
But many in the industry say the Registration Act isn't preventing fraud.
"We get frustrated," said Trevor Thomson, a manager with Red River Roofing. Thomson's company is registered and follows the rules, but he says the registration law is usually not enforced.
What's more, he and other roofing contractors feel that, in order to truly be effective, the law should require that roofers, not only be registered, but also licensed, to prove that they possess a certain level of competency.
"In Oklahoma, that doesn't exist," Thomson lamented. "You really can be any trade on Friday, the storm hits, you slap a magnet on the door and, guess what? 'I'm a roofer today.'"
Fraud continues unabated
According to roofing contractor registry created by the law, just under 2,000 roofers have registered with the state. About half of them, however, have let their registrations lapse, and some of them continue to work anyway.
"Excel -- we had seen their signs in the neighborhood," explained Roger Wilson, referring to a roofing contractor they were considering last year, when they were looking to replace the hail-damaged roof of their Edmond home.
Wilson and his wife, Maricarol, ended up signing a contract with Excel Roofing on July 2, 2012. Excel's registration with the state had expired a few days before. It has not been renewed since.
But, worse than being unregistered, the company took the $5,000 that the Wilsons paid up front and left them high and dry.
"At first we tried to call the office number for Excel Roofing on North McArthur," stated Maricarol Wilson, "and we left message after message after message, and no one would call us back."
It turns out, the company had moved from that location months earlier, according the current occupant of the building at that address.
Efforts to reach the man who was actually supposed to do the roof job also led nowhere -- he is now out of the state.
The Wilsons hired an attorney, but, eventually, out of frustration, gave up trying to recover their money from a company that has been given an 'F' rating by the Better Business Bureau.
One thing the law did make easier to do is file a complaint against a roofing contractor, and the Wilsons did that.
The complaints go to the state's Construction Industries Board, which then forwards them to the company that is the subject of the complaint. That contractor then has ten days to respond to the complaint, and then both are sent to the district attorney.
Excel Roofing never responded to the Wilson's complaint.
Since the registration law went into effect in November 2010, the Construction Industries Board has received a steady stream of complaints: 69 in 2011, 48 in 2012, and on pace for 70 in 2013.
In the Wilson's case -- and virtually every other -- the complaints have not led to anyone being prosecuted. District attorneys don't have the staff to investigate the cases, and the law didn't give the Construction Industries Board the authority to take any action itself.
In a statement, the administrator of the CIB, Janis Hubbard, said, "Unfortunately, the Legislature stopped short of empowering the Construction Industries Board to investigate violations."
Law's Author Leary of Overregulation
The author of the original legislation, Rep. Dan Newberry, says he didn't want to overregulate the industry. He believes the law gives the consumer the ability to check on a roofer to see if they're properly registered. He says one possible fix would be to increase the fine for not registering. Currently, the fine is $500.
"Why have [the law]," asked roofer Mark McBride, "if you're not going to enforce it?"
McBride is a registered roofing contractor, and also a state representative. He feels the law needs to be toughened substantially, and he is one roofer who is truly in a position to help make that happen.
"Put some teeth into something," McBride exclaimed, "some laws to make these people play by the same rules that we play [by] as professionals in the business."
McBride says he will push legislation next session to do just that.