The Consumer Federation of America released its 2018 Consumer Complaint Survey Report recently, and Home Improvement/Construction were second only to automotive related complaints.

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Consumer Federation of America is an association of more than 250 non-profit consumer groups, and it annually surveys consumer agencies of all levels across the country for complaints they received the year prior. These agencies, according to the Consumer Federation of America, “provide a snapshot of the most common, fastest-growing, worst, and newest problems consumers reported in 2018.”

With just 35 agencies reporting for 2018, they represent 1,148,848 complaints between them and that does not include contacts from consumers or businesses asking for advice or information. The most complaints reported were for automotive and home improvement/construction; not an unusual finding the group implied.

“These problems often involve significant amounts of money and cause great inconvenience, so consumers are more likely to report them and seek help,” the report said.

And while it’s not unusual to see home improvement/construction at the top of the list of complaints in general, in 2018 it topped the list of worst complaints as well. This designation was not only for the financial loss consumers suffer for incomplete or shoddy work, or work that is paid for and never performed but also because “these problems can also make their homes unlivable and cause emotional distress. Problems with services and fraud were also among the top worst complaints.”

Some of the newer issues that have arisen recently for local consumer agencies and made it into the survey for 2018 include the use of social media platforms to solicit customers for products and, separately, a fraudulent mold inspector.

The city, county and state consumer agencies are described by the Consumer Federation of America as “the first line of defense for consumers, righting individual wrongs, stopping abusive practices in the marketplace, and recouping people’s money or saving them from paying unjust charges.” Illustrating why the Federation feels that way are some of the stories included in the report, which are provided by the local agencies during the survey. One such example is listed under New Consumer Problems in 2018, and was for energy efficiency work financed under the PACE program in Florida.

The Hillsborough Department of Consumer and Veterans Affairs fielded several complaints about contractors selling home improvements with financing through the PACE that provides loans for projects that improve energy efficiency. The complaints of this nature, the report states, tended to be from older individuals on fixed incomes who were targeted by door-to-door salespeople and allegedly experienced false advertising, high pressure sales tactics, exorbitant charges, substandard work, and failure to start or complete the work.

Also in Florida, the Orange County Consumer Fraud Unit reported a case of a 79-year-old man who hired a contractor to repair the roofs on three houses. The contractor, whom the client had known as a child, convinced the client to make the checks out to him personally instead of the business before he “absconded with the funds, performing no work.” Now known to have been unlicensed, the contractor is facing criminal charges.

One of the survey questions asked was about new laws, regulations, or ordinances that have been enacted to better protect consumers, and those surveyed reported a variety of responses, including new consumer protections for reverse mortgages, homeowners associations, and situations where roofing contractors were acting as insurance adjusters.

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