Ohio legislation targets fraud in air-duct cleaning
By Marc Kovac
State officials would have more power to go after unscrupulous air-duct cleaning businesses under legislation being introduced in the Ohio Senate.
Senate Bill 338 is being offered by Sen. Kevin Bacon, a Republican from the Columbus area, after seeing investigative reports on such businesses that promise unrealistically low prices to remove dust and dirt from air vents and duct work, then con homeowners of thousands of dollars.
“You’ll see coupons representing that they’re going to do work for a dollar an air vent or $20 a vent,” Bacon said. “What happens when you go to the door; are they really going to charge you $20 a vent? Oftentimes, that’s a bait and switch, and the bill get’s much higher.”
He added, “These unscrupulous contractors oftentimes won’t clean the system or will overbill customers or make misrepresentations to secure their business.”
Bacon’s legislation would require any business providing air-duct cleaning services to be registered with the state, with documentation required showing proof of financial responsibility, work experience and past criminal convictions.
Registration numbers would have to be included on any advertisements, and consumers could verify businesses are registered by checking an online database.
Businesses also would have to provide written contracts to customers and would be prohibited from misrepresenting dangerous substances in vents, with hopes of selling services.
The state attorney general has authority to crack down on businesses that bait and switch or otherwise commit fraud on consumers.
Bacon said the legislation and proposed registration requirements are the first of their kind in the country.
“We wanted to make sure companies were licensed,” said John Schulte, executive director of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. “But we’re also looking to give the consumers a way out of it if a company isn’t registered, if they’re not licensed. So one of the provisions in the legislation allows the consumer to escape payment if the company provides services and is not [registered].”
Mark Swepston, president of Atlas Butler, a Columbus heating, ventilation and air-conditioning business that does duct cleaning, said it costs $400 to $600 to do a proper service on an average two-story home.
Those businesses offering cleanings for $19.95 are just trying to get their foot in the door to make a larger sale, he said.