In a world fraught with danger, we all seek a place of safety and security. Our homes can fill this need. The doors our castle's drawbridges, and our driveways are the crocodile-filled moats that give us space from life's frantic pace. In our safety-spaces, we feel free to take the cell phones, pagers, laptop computers and scores of other devices that never allow us to be unburdened of our responsibilities and shove them under the bed with the dust bunnies and other monsters!
The problem, of course, is that once you accept someone into your sphere of trust, you become vulnerable. Most assaults occur between people who know each other. Witness the appalling statistics on domestic violence. According to the NYC Police, they receive over 5000 complaints a day about violence between family members!
And what about "other" people? What about the salesmen, electricians, plumbers, handymen and gardeners who we allow into our most private spaces? Who are these people? What do we really know about them? Generally, not an awful lot, but we open our doors with the faith that we will not regret the choice.
On July 6th, a 61-year-old Avon, CT man was reported missing by a friend when he missed a lunch date. The friend found blood at the home and immediately called the police. After a stabbed-body was discovered four days later, two men were arrested on suspicion. They were brothers who had been doing "handyman" work for the victim. One was a carpenter and the other a former construction foreman. Both had long criminal records including violence, burglary and firearms offences.
How did this happen? Did this man check on their backgrounds? Did he contact the state to find out if they were registered contractors? Did he talk to any of their other clients? And if he did, would it have made any difference? I don't think we'll ever know.
At the State of Connecticut website, I performed a search for these two men in the home improvement contractor database. I found that neither man appeared to be registered contractors. Would this knowledge have helped their victim? Perhaps, but lack of understanding of the registration process and the protections it offers make some people think that registration is just another government intrusion to be avoided.
Even if one or both of these handymen had been registered, the database gives scant information about the contractor. It gives hardly more than a name, address and a list of consumer complaints. Interestingly, the application asks for information concerning felony convictions or trade-related offences, but this information is also lacking online.
I have written and spoken often regarding hiring contractors and handymen, and don't hesitate to express my anger at the few bad apples who have spoiled the reputation of all home repair professionals. Yet despite the efforts of home repair writers, pleas from consumer protection agencies and all the public cases of contractor mischief with disastrous outcomes, many people still don't get it.
I know from personal experience. In over 17 years as a registered contractor, I have never once been asked for my registration number! Not that I'm complaining. Trust is the best lubricant for all relationships, business or otherwise. Everything works more smoothly when you can take a person at their word. But sometimes, trust can be misinterpreted as weakness by the unscrupulous. In many crimes, most notably financial scams, misuse of trust is the weapon of choice!
My own clients have often complained to me about shady contractors, but not one has filed a formal complaint. Some didn't know they could, some were just not motivated enough and some felt intimidated by the contractors. Unfortunately, without input from the victims, the sheep will continue to be fleeced by the wolves! Some folks think it's romantic to work around "the system." Some think that they will get a "break" if they hire a rogue contractor. Perhaps, but it may not be the kind of break they expect!
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