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The $53,000 tree bill

Seven On Your Side
February 26, 2013 2:55:21 PM PST
Anyone who's paid to have a tree cut down knows it's not cheap, but a Brooklyn homeowner got the shock of his life, when he got stuck with a bill, for 53-thousand dollars.

It's the mother of all gouging stories we heard after sandy. A big bill came from a tree company from Seattle working in our area ever since Superstorm Sandy, but we gave these out-of-towners a 7 On Your Side welcome to take some hot air out of an inflated bill.

"The tree went that way you can see from the pictures and it fell against this shed over here," Dick Tortora said.

It was a big job, no denying that. Sandy's fierce winds downed these two hulking trees ripping the back off a building, but the real jaw-dropper was the bill.

U.S. Timber Cutters charged $53,000 to homeowner Dick Tortora to cut down the trees and haul them away.

"They came from the other side of the country to take advantage of us here," Tortora said.

For starters, U.S. Timber Cutters never gave Dick a proper estimate on how much the work would cost - a violation of city consumer law. Tortora said he never received an invoice either.

"What he did was bill the insurance company," he said.

But Dick's insurance company denied the claim. And a day later - the cherry on top - the tree company got a mechanic's lien placed on the family property.

"Never sent us a bill. We didn't even know what it was," Tortora said.

Furious, Dick got another local tree company to give an estimate based on these photos of the job. They estimated $5,000, he said.

It was time for us to operate on this tree surgeon. We contacted the company's owner who justified the big bill, saying he normally "shoots high" when billing insurance companies. But after we informed him he was working without a valid home improvement license he took a chain saw to the invoice.

First, Timber Cutters' owner dropped the mechanics lien saying he made a billing mistake, adding an extra zero to end of the invoice total. Dick's bill went from 53 to 6-thousand - a savings of more than 46-thousand dollars.

Currently, the New York Attorney General is investigating U.S. Timber Cutters for alleged price gouging. Consumer Affairs is looking into possible fines for operating without a home improvement license. Before hiring any contractor, check if they're licensed.

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