RINGGOLD, Ga. — Since tornadoes embedded a large limb in Robert Harris’ roof last week, he has been bombarded with offers from contractors to help him out.
Some have been legitimate, he believes; others, not so much. The latter category includes one who offered to remove the limb and cut up the trees that fell in his yard on Sparks Street, all for a small fee and even if his insurance company doesn’t pay for the damage.
That one brought a chuckle from Harris on Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of scams in here,” he said.
Local authorities are warning residents with storm damage to be on their guard against tree cutting and removal services wanting to make hasty contracts before an insurance adjuster has seen the property.
“We’ve been asking people to be very conscious of price gouging,” said Catoosa County Commissioner Jim Cutler.
In Ringgold, the sheriff’s office ran a tree-cutting service out of town after officers found the business was charging residents more than $40,000 to cut and remove fallen trees from yards.
The tree service was going door to door, asking residents to sign contracts before their insurance companies were notified, said Randall Peters, an owner of Weeks and Peters Insurance Co.
A 92-year-old client of Peters’ came to him in a panic Monday because he had given the company a large check over the weekend. Fortunately, the client was able to cancel the check before it went through, Peters said.
Such scams are common after a disaster, officials say.
Marietta Tree Service and Landscaping owner Tracy Langston, who has been working in Ringgold since the storm hit, said he often sees questionable companies take advantage of residents during a catastrophe. These companies set high prices and rush in to remove trees, often causing more damage because of poor work, Lang-ston said.
On Tennessee Street, Langston pointed to a house where a Bobcat had ripped a tree off the roof, scarring the front of the house. Broken branches and limbs snaked up the driveway in a path along the concrete. Instead of removing the trees along the driveway, the branches were pushed aside, Langston said.
“Please be smart,” Peters said. “Don’t enter into any contract or pay money until you’ve spoken with your insurance company.”
Catoosa County officials now require contractors to have a county license to work locally. But any suspicion of fraud should be reported, Cutler said.
“If there’s any questions at all, call the sheriff’s office or call the county,” he said.
Hall Trundle said two 100-year-old pecan trees fell on the roof of his mother’s Guyler Avenue house and more than a dozen trees tumbled around the yard.
Trundle said the insurance company will pay for the trees on the house, but he’ll have to pay someone himself to haul everything out of the yard.
A tree that falls and doesn’t hit anything isn’t covered under homeowners insurance, but if it falls on a piece of real estate — whether it’s a fence, shed or house — the insurance company must pay to fix the damage, said Jay Kennamer, a Chattanooga attorney.
The biggest disputes concern who’s responsible when a tree falls on a neighbor’s house, Kennamer said. As long as a tree wasn’t a known threat before it fell, the owner of the property the tree fell on is responsible, he said.
But Terry Baird, a State Farm Insurance agent working from the Ringgold field office, said those types of situations can be negotiable.
“We take a look at it on a case-by-case situation,” Baird said.
On Wednesday, State Farm field agents were still rounding up information on clients to assess the damage, but Baird said most of the initial assessments had been completed.