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David Goldstein Investigates: Roofers Scamming Thousands Out Of Customers Preparing For El Niño

PASADENA ( — As California's historic drought continues to weigh heavy on the state, news of an approaching El Niño system has restored a glimmer of hope to many who have long waited to see even a moderate amount of relieving rainfall.

As the storms approach, however, it becomes necessary for residents to prepare accordingly in the name of safety. Much of this preparation includes making certain that homes are able to withstand the potentially dangerous forces associated with such storms.

In Southern California, residents are contacting roofing contractors to have their roofs checked and to ensure a sense of security and peace of mind.

As CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein and his team discovered, however, many of these residents are at risk of becoming victims of the very roofers they contract with.

A Craigslist search from an undercover producer turned up plenty of roofers, advertising their services and emphasizing the impending storms and their consequences.

After calling in two experts to inspect a healthy roof, which is only about 5 years old, they gave their stamp of approval, stating that the roof is in good shape and that it is ready to withstand El Niño.

The undercover producer then met with a man named Robert Tony from So Cal Roofing, who inspected the roof for less than one minute.

Initially, Tony gave a promising analysis.

"What I can see from here, ma'am, the shingles are in pretty fair condition," Tony said.

Then came the sales pitch.

"What you could do to buy life out of that shingle and protect yourself, because we are going to have a very heavy winter, we have a special coating that we spray on there," Tony said. "It's like getting Vaseline and putting it on a T-shirt and running water on it. It's going to run right off."

The price tag for the service was set at $1,200.

Convincing the producer he was giving her a deal, Tony said he was reducing the price from $1,800 for her, because he's a nice guy.

Upon being asked why he was cutting the price for her, he responded, "Because I'm working down the street and I have leftover material, and I'm a Christian man and I had it in my heart to give you a discount."

An expert revealed to Goldstein, meanwhile, that the clear coat service could void the warranty.

Tony then admitted that he and his boss had planned to convince the producer that she needed the coating before he had ever laid eyes on the roof.

"Aren't you just preying on people with El Niño?" Goldstein asked upon approaching Tony.

"I'm not, come on," Tony responded. Goldstein then reminded Tony that he was the one giving the producer the estimate, to which he responded, "Yes, this is what I was told to give her, and I did, by the gentleman she contacted. I'm just a laborer."

Another roofer named Peter was the next to show up and investigate the roof.

"The roof is perfect; it's just the ridge caps," Peter stated. "They're all cracked on the top. They bend like this and in the middle they crack. When you get a leak, then you are going to have black mold."

Peter then proceeded to demonstrate a scenario, attempting to expand the apparent problem. After telling the producer she could wait up to two months to fix the stated issue, he went on to warn that each rainfall increased the risk of mold. Additionally, Peter, who had just stated that the roof was "perfect," then claimed that this was not the only problem he found.

"That sheet metal is just wobbling there," Peter said. "With the wind coming and the El Niño and the water, none of the sheet metal is nailed down. It all has to be nailed down, and once it's nailed down, it has to be sealed."

Peter wanted $1,700 for both jobs, but said he would do them for $1,600 if he was hired for both jobs together.

Goldstein then approached Peter about the state of the roof.

"We had an expert check this roof, who said everything was beautiful, this roof is fine, there's nothing wrong with it," Goldstein said. "You want seventeen-hundred, sixteen-hundred dollars, to nail down, you said there's going to be black mold. Come on."

The next roofer, Nicholas, volunteered the information that he was not a licensed roofer and proceeded to give the roof a good grade.

"The roof is actually in very good shape," he began. Then came the catch.

"What every homeowner knows is around six years, eight years, there should always be some kind of roof maintenance. Roof maintenance is basically going around the roof, seeing if there's any loose shingles."

Even though Nicholas was never seen actually examining the shingles around the vents, he said he spotted problems anyway.

"There's a few loose ends around the ducts, so I'd like to tack those down to get them totally flat, so they're not loose so that way you don't get a wind that will push them right off," Nicholas said. "If there's any of them that we could grab, what we do is nail them completely down."

Goldstein's expert then exposed the plan as a big mistake.

"You don't want to certainly nail through a shingle, because the nail will work itself out and create a hole," he said.

A number of the roofers that performed inspections of the roof did reveal that the roof was in perfect condition, with one saying it would be suited to last 25 more years.

Experts advise residents who are looking to prepare for the El Niño to do so in a safe manner by being sure to hire a licensed roofer and to ask for pictures before and after repairs, so that you can see the work that is done.

Further advise recommends customers never putting down more than 10 percent, or $1000, for work.

"We've been in a drought for so long, so now that you get the grand opportunity of heavy rains, they take advantage of that," the expert said. "They come out swarming to do everything they can do, and take you for your money."

For more tips on how to safely hire a contractor, visit this tips page by Business Consumer Alliance.

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