The roofer control bill is dead in Austin. That means at least two more years of confusion, cut corners and criminality in the roofing industry.
With near-zero regulation, anything — roof or robbery — can happen in the crime spree that makes up today's world of tar and shingles. Pray you don't need a new roof sometime soon.
If you do, you might already be one of the 49,855 viewers who've seen a viral Facebook video from Allen roofer James Delagarza.
With almost 50,000 hits on his sales video called "Do not pay your deductible," Delagarza, 47, a former Dallas firefighter, is suddenly a leading spokesman for his industry, at least in social media. The owner of American-1 Roofing and Remodeling delivers his sermon from atop a roof, in windy conditions, hiding his eyes behind sports sunglasses.
He's brash. He's insistent. He's mostly wrong. But so many people have seen his video online, I wonder if that matters. Four people wrote The Watchdog and asked that the roofer on the roof get fact-checked. Here goes.
One of the central rules in Texas is the illegality of someone offering to waive an insurance deductible. It's widely considered to be against state law for a roofer (or an auto body shop) to waive a deductible. By waiving, a consumer doesn't have to pay a possible $500 deductible for auto body work or a typical 1 percent deductible for a new roof — usually a few thousand dollars.
Illegal, yes, but many roofers do it anyway. No one enforces the law.
Still, it's considered a sin among honest, established roofers to outright advertise they'll waive the deductible to lower a bid and beat the competition.
From his rooftop perch, Delagarza delivers his spiel.
"We openly tell them, 'Yes, we will waive your deductible.' What you cannot do is collect it and rebate it back to them. That's illegal."
When a roofer tells you that waiving a deductible is against the law, he warns in the video, "run, they are not to be trusted."
He suggests roofers attempting to follow the law are untrustworthy. That's like saying bank robbers are good because they keep tellers busy.
For backup, he cites a 1990 "ruling" by the Texas attorney general and a 2012 Better Business Bureau report that "reaffirmed that decision."
Is any of this true? The Watchdog asks those who would know.
"The claim that no consumers should have to pay deductibles is false," spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn says. "This applies to consumers paying their insurance company, not the company performing construction services."
She points to state law that makes it a crime for someone to advertise or promise to pay "any applicable insurance deductible."
A 27-year-old attorney general opinion left a technical loophole that roofers cannot advertise that they will pay or rebate a deductible, but waiving a deductible is not a criminal offense, the nonbinding opinion stated.
Dallas lawyer Steve Badger, who pushed this year for a roofer law in the Legislature, says attorney general opinions are not rulings, but advisory opinions without the binding force of law.
"It is correct that presently there is no enforcement of the law against waiving deductibles, but the scheme remains illegal for another reason," Badger says. "It is criminal insurance fraud. You have basically lied to your insurance company about the cost of your roof."
After a reminder that the Texas Department of Insurance doesn't regulate roofers, spokesman Jerry Hagins says waiving a deductible could be considered a breach of policy.
"Claims are more closely monitored than they used to be," he says. "The deductible is an agreement we make with the company that we'll shoulder some of the cost."
That cost savings goes somewhere, he says, often with lower-quality materials, cut corners or false invoices.
Charles W. "Chad" Fillmore, a Fort Worth lawyer, has sued Lon Smith Roofing and Construction on behalf of homeowners and won, proving the company's failure to follow contract rules.
"The homeowner runs the risk that the insurance company would say that both roofer and homeowner are engaged in insurance fraud and deny the claim and report what it believes is insurance fraud to authorities," Fillmore says. "I would not advise any client to run any one of those risks."
The roofer's video, BBB spokeswoman Phylissia Clark says, takes "our statements out of context. We did not and cannot 'reaffirm' laws."
The roofer referred to a 2012 BBB report. Consumers rarely complain because even if the practice is prohibited, they save money, the report said. The report also called it "overt insurance fraud," but acknowledged a "technical loophole" that cuts "a very fuzzy line of insurance fraud."
The BBB spokesman adds, "He was just trying to invoke our name to legitimize this."
This isn't Delagarza's first taste of Facebook notoriety. Six years ago, he was convicted of harassing a former employee online by logging into her Facebook account, pretending to be her and posting nasty messages in her name, court documents show.
I showed Delagarza what the experts say about his video.
He's sticking to his shingles.
"I did my research," he insists.
49,855 views and counting.
The Dallas Morning News staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.
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Write: Dave Lieber, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265
Property tax town hall
On Monday, I'll co-host a "Property Tax Town Hall" in Frisco with Realtor Sarah Hamilton. The event is free. The public is invited but seating is limited and must be reserved.
The event is from 7 to 9 p.m. at the British Lion Pub, 5454 Main St.
I'll be speaking along with Tarrant County Tax Assessor/Collector Ron Wright, Collin County Commissioner Susan Fletcher and a property tax consultant.
The Watchdog will talk about my "Everybody File a Protest" campaign and discuss different protest strategies.
For more information and to reserve seating, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 214-507-8877.
— Dave Lieber