Local News Roof-care firm racks up long list of gripes Seattle Times Newspaper

A rash of complaints against a 10-year-old Mill Creek-based roofing company has a consistent theme: The company promises refunds or repairs.

Alpine Roof Care client Dorothy Tierney points out problems she says she had with work done by the Mill Creek company. Tierney also says Alpine agreed to give her money back, but the check never arrived.

A rash of complaints against a 10-year-old Mill Creek-based roofing company has a consistent theme: The company promises refunds or repairs but doesn’t follow through.

Alpine Roof Care advertises widely with mailed Valpak coupons, attracting customers with roof pressure-washing and chemical treatments. But in the past three years, it has racked up more complaints with the regional Better Business Bureau than any other roofing contractor and left many homeowners out hundreds of dollars and unsure of what to do next.

Dorothy Tierney’s experience with Alpine Roof Care left her feeling vulnerable. She paid the company $1,800 to fix her wind-damaged Fall City roof and gutters, but when the work was done, Tierney wasn’t happy. The 75-year-old widow said the roof was uneven and a pieced-together gutter leaked every time it rained, among other problems.

She said Alpine’s office manager agreed to give her money back and even told her the company had mailed her a check, but the check never arrived. In the end, she called her brother a lawyer to sue the company in August.

Tierney isn’t the only one complaining about the company.

Nine Alpine customers have filed complaints with the state Attorney General’s Office, which wouldn’t say whether it plans to take action.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) has received 30 complaints about the company in the past three years, 27 of which have been processed by the organization, which gives companies a chance to respond before reporting complaints on its Web site.

If you get a credit-card bill for the wrong amount or for something you didn’t receive, you can dispute the charge under the Fair Credit Billing Act.

How to begin: Write to your credit-card company at the address given for "billing inquiries," not the address to which you send the payment. Include your name, address, account number and a description of the error. Your letter must reach the credit-card company within 60 days of the first bill with the error. Send it certified mail, return receipt requested, and enclose copies of receipts, bills or other documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your letter.

What’s covered: Federal law limits your responsibility for unauthorized charges to $50. In addition, you can dispute charges that list the wrong date or amount, charges for goods or services that weren’t delivered as agreed, math errors, failure to post payments and other credits, such as returns, and failure to send bills to your current address.

Next steps: Your credit-card company must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days unless the problem has been resolved. The company must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles of receiving your letter.

More information: For more information and a sample letter, visit www.ftc.gov/bcp/

conline/pubs/credit/fcb.htm .

Source: Federal Trade Commission

Of the complaints, 11 were problems with overbilling, 12 were problems with the work and the rest concerned customer service.

Alpine Roof Care office manager Crystal Petitt said she hadn’t known about 11 of the complaints, but the BBB said it mailed copies to Alpine’s mailing address.

The BBB Web site says the company’s record is unsatisfactory.

Alpine Roof Care is licensed, bonded and insured in Washington state and operates out of a house off 164th Street Southwest in Mill Creek. Owner Gabe Henderson founded the company 10 years ago when he was 21 and owns it with his wife, Danielle.

The company is no stranger to the BBB. In 2001, the company was advertising itself as a BBB member, although it never had been, organization spokeswoman Erin May said.

Gabe Henderson spoke with the BBB most recently about five months ago, when the bureau verified his address, May said.

Consumers filed more than 800 complaints with the Attorney General’s Office about contractors last year, making contracting the sixth-most-complained-about industry in the state.

Contractors also rack up complaints with the BBB. Roofers, plumbers and construction services were all in the top-20 types of complaints the BBB got last year.

Even if you research whether a company is operating legally as Tierney did with the help of her son-in-law you may still end up with an expensive mess.

The BBB tries to resolve disputes by writing letters to companies urging them to work things out with customers. It can’t take any regulatory action, but it can kick businesses out of its organization and post unsatisfactory reports on its Web site.

The Attorney General’s Office tries to get companies to resolve issues on their own, too, and starts by writing letters. But just because the Attorney General considers a complaint resolved doesn’t mean it really is.

Consider Kirkland attorney Dan Norman’s complaint about Alpine:

Norman complained late last year that an Alpine crew hired to clean his gutters had damaged his home’s paint but didn’t rid his gutters of leaves. He says that when he called Alpine, Henderson came to his house and said the job had been done properly.

Norman wasn’t satisfied and called Alpine several more times. When the company didn’t call him back, Norman filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Three letters and three months later, the AG’s Office heard from Petitt, who blamed her late reply on a problem with her fax machine and agreed in writing to hire someone to fix Norman’s paint job. The AG’s Office closed the file as resolved.

By that time, however, Norman had given up, cleaned out the gutters himself and hired someone to repaint.

Petitt said she doesn’t give people the runaround.

"If people ask for stuff, I’d give it to them," she said.

But Tierney says she asked the company to fix a cracked beam as part of the job, and that it wasn’t done.

Petitt said the company didn’t agree to fix the beam.

"We did the work we said we were going to do," Petitt said, declining to elaborate.

But several Alpine customers said Petitt didn’t follow through on her promises to refund money or send someone out to fix a problem.

Terrie Johanson of Magnolia said Petitt agreed to refund a $900 overcharge for work done in March, then seemed to give her excuses about it.

"Her daughter was sick. She had a root canal. They ran out of checks at the office," Johanson said. "Twice she was actually supposedly in her car driving to meet me. to give me a check physically in my hand, but then something came up."

Johanson ended up filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

Checking out a contractor

Reputation: Choose a company that has a good reputation in the community and has been in business for several years. The Attorney General’s Office suggests starting by asking around for a recommendation. Home-improvement and building-supply stores might be able to recommend someone.

License: To operate in Washington, contractors must be licensed, bonded and insured. To check, visit the Department of Labor and Industries Web site at https://fortress.wa.gov/lni/bbip/ and search the state database. At the bottom of each report, you can see whether any complaints have been filed against the contractor’s bond.

Bids: Ask at least three contractors to estimate the costs of your project. Besides comparing prices, the Better Business Bureau recommends that you compare the scope of the work and types of materials each contractor would use.

Check for complaints: The Better Business Bureau has a searchable system at its Web site, www.thebbb.org. The state Office of the Attorney General’s Consumer Affairs Division also accepts complaints, so you should call 206-389-3994 to see whether other consumers have run into problems with the company you’re considering.

Get it in writing: State agencies stress that it’s important to have an explicit contract that you understand.

More information: To learn more about choosing a contractor, check out these Web sites: www.thebbb.org, click on "homesource"; www.atg.wa.gov/consumer. click on "hiring a contractor"; and www.lni.wa.gov/


Source: Office of the Attorney General Consumer Affairs Division; Better Business Bureau; Washington State Department of Labor and Industries.

Carolyn Conway of Sammamish said Alpine charged her Visa card $1,272 instead of $272 for work done in March. When she called Alpine, Petitt said she’d fix the charge. The next month, Conway found that the $1,000 hadn’t been credited to her account.

When the money wasn’t refunded three months later, Petitt offered to send a check if it wasn’t fixed the following month, Conway said. It wasn’t, the check never arrived and Conway said Petitt stopped taking her phone calls.

Petitt blamed the problem on the company that handles Alpine’s credit-card transactions. She said Henderson is working on the problem.

"As far as I know, everybody got their money back," Petitt said.

But Lisa Mohrweis had the same problem after Alpine fixed her roof last summer. Her credit card was charged an extra $1,000, and Petitt told Mohrweis she would fix it. Mohrweis said she never got a credit and Petitt stopped taking her phone calls. Mohrweis got the charge removed through her bank.

Henderson didn’t respond to four messages that The Seattle Times left for him with his wife, Petitt and another woman who answered the phone at the company’s offices. He also did not respond to an e-mail.

At an interview at the Alpine office two weeks ago, Petitt said she thought her company was being blamed for Better Business Bureau complaints about a company with a similar name.

Petitt said that all the complaints against Alpine had been dealt with but that she would call to double-check. Later that day, she called to say she found out about several other complaints and "took care of them." (As of yesterday, however, Alpine still had not responded to one complaint, May said.)

But questions remained about whether the company had solved the problems.

The next week, the woman who answered the phone said Petitt was in a meeting.

Later, she said Petitt had had a family emergency and would be out the rest of the day.

The following week, Petitt called back, saying she had been out sick. But she still didn’t answer questions about customer complaints against Alpine.

One lawsuit, Tierney’s, has been filed against Alpine. Tierney’s brother, attorney William Dunn, said it’s expensive to file a claim against a company’s bond consumers who sue contractors actually file claims through the state Department of Labor and Industries to get their money back from contractors’ bonds. The lawsuits are filed in Superior Court.

"If you’ve got $500 to $600 [in dispute], an attorney really can’t get involved," Dunn said. "It’s not worth it."

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