Utility subcontractors must be held accountable
Who is that guy running machinery across your lawn and digging up your perennial bed and who is responsible to clean up the mess he is leaving behind?
For many homeowners in Wisconsin getting answers to those questions is far harder than it should be. In the world of unregulated utility subcontracting, municipalities may only have the vaguest of information, knowing that crews hired on behalf of some parent corporation are expected to be in certain areas doing installs, upgrades or line maintenance during some vague time period. It is rare to see people from the actual utility company doing the work. Typically work is done by subcontractors who were hired for specific projects. Adding to this, a subcontractor might have several projects going at one time and the worker in Medford this week may be pulled to a project in Mauston next week and Menominee for a few days in between to fill in for someone out sick.
What this means is that it is really anyone’s guess who the guy digging in your backyard may be and if you should be concerned about them accessing your property when you aren’t at home.
As far as responsibility for any damages, good luck in tracking down someone. In an ideal world, contractors would take professional responsibility and ensure that whatever damage they caused to someone’s yard or lawn would be repaired when the project was completed. While there are subcontractors who do this, more often than not, the contractor is hurrying to the next job and makes only a cursory repair of the disrupted soil and throws down some grass seed.
Often the crews are long gone by the time a homeowner sees the mound of dirt or ruts left in their yard or plantings disrupted. In these cases, the homeowners have the option of doing the repairs themselves or attempting to complain to the utility company only to be given a runaround and long delays.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Rather than the current free-for-all, there needs to be new consumer safety regulations put into place at the state and local levels. Utility subcontractors should have to register with local governments at either the municipal or county level and identify each person working on the crews in that area and ensuring they can pass a basic background check. Many municipalities already have licensing requirements in place for door to door salesmen, similar standards should be in place for utility subcontractors.
In addition, there should be requirements that homeowners should be alerted as to when crews will be in the area including information about who to contact if there are problems or concerns. This can be done with a simple door-hanger that would be cheap for the companies to produce and distribute.
Work crews should likewise be required to clearly display what company they are with and who they are working for so that homeowners can feel secure in knowing they are a legitimate contractor rather than a fly-by-night outfit.
Requiring registration and increasing transparency of utility subcontractors will go a long way toward improving homeowners’ perception of disruptive projects.