Unfortunately, the warmer temperatures that bring out the best in Maryland’s landscape also trigger the proliferation of unscrupulous and unskilled tree service workers masquerading as the real deal.
Hoping to nip scams in the bud, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources this spring is urging homeowners: “Don’t Go Out on a Limb. Hire a Pro!”
“For tree care needs, both trimming and removals, always use the services of a Maryland Licensed Tree Expert as they are professional, knowledgeable and insured,” said DNR Forest Service Director Don VanHassent. “Choosing a drive-by worker with a truck and chainsaw can be a recipe for disaster for a homeowner. It may seem like a bargain, but could end up costing you dearly.”
Unlicensed tree service operators, nicknamed “woodchucks” by law enforcement officials, appear each spring and after severe storms hoping to take advantage of elderly and distressed homeowners.
Recently, DNR and Howard County Police combined forces to arrest a Culpeper, Va., man for theft, theft scheme, malicious destruction of property and obtaining the property of a vulnerable adult. George Eli Defibaugh, 49, is accused of taking $12,000 from an elderly man after convincing him that several trees were infested and had to be removed.
Defibaugh was charged last November by the Maryland Natural Resources Police with operating a tree business without a license. He is scheduled to appear in Howard District Court on May 28.
Scams abound, from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore.
Maryland Natural Resources Police officers write, on average, 33 citations annually for individuals operating as a tree expert without a license. Allied agencies across the state also field complaints and track down those posing as professionals. The maximum fine for a first offense is $500. A subsequent offense is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year in prison.
Last year, DNR’s Forest Service received 32 complaints against people operating and advertising without a license, and issued 36 notarized affidavits for county police and consumer protection agencies. These affidavits are legal documents used during court proceedings to show that the individuals are not Maryland Licensed Tree Experts and cannot perform or advertise tree care.
All tree care professionals advertising and working in Maryland must obtain a Maryland Tree Expert license. An applicant must either have: two years of approved college education in forestry-related sciences; the equivalent education and a minimum of one year of experience with a licensed tree expert; or three years of experience under a licensed tree expert. The applicant must pass a written exam and carry adequate amounts of liability and property damage insurance. A license must be renewed every two years.
Homeowners can protect themselves by following some simple guidelines:
•Check to see if the business is licensed by DNR
•Never be rushed into making a decision
•Obtain several written estimates
•Verify that the contractor is bonded and insured
•Deal with a local business, not someone whose office is the front seat of his truck
•Never give a contractor more than a third of the price up front
For a list of Maryland Licensed Tree Experts, visit dnr.maryland.gov/forests/tree_expert_search.asp.