Look Out for Unlicensed Tree Trimmers

Forecasters say we may soon be coping with a soggy El Niño winter.

And while that has Southern Californians scrambling to get their homes ready, it has others looking to cheat you out of your money.

People are going door-to-door, offering to trim trees before the rainy season starts.

The  buzzsaws are a sound you may be hearing a lot these days – crews cutting back overgrown trees – as El Niño predictions trigger fears of branches crashing down on homes and cars.

But not all tree trimmers will deliver on their promises.

"They came to the door, saying they were already doing work on a neighbor's house, and that it would be a cheaper cost to us," said Keith Leonard, a homeowner.

But the crew Leonard hired wound up taking his money and disappearing before they finished the job.

Consumer advocates say that's just one of the bad scenarios that can play out.

"One problem is unlicensed workers, unlicensed companies, running around with chain saws, who are just doing work on the fly," said Kevin Brassler, the executive editor at Consumers' Checkbook.

The consequences can be catastrophic:

If an unlicensed, uninsured trimmer gets hurt on your property, you could be liable.

And accidents happen all the time:

Tree trimming is considered one of the most deadly jobs in America – claiming 79 lives in 2013.

Luckily no one got hurt on Leonard's property – but he's out more than $3,000.

"Oh, I feel ripped off," Leonard said. "They came in seeming trustworthy, and ended up not being."

Some tips to protect you from that kind of rip-off:

  • Always ask to see a trimmer's license and evidence of insurance – they're required by law to carry both;
  • Avoid hiring crews that canvas your neighborhoods;
  • And never pay up front;
  • And if you need your trees trimmed, act quickly. Local trimmers tell the I-Team they are booked weeks in advance because of the El Niño forecast.
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