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SF sues HomeAdvisor for skipping background checks

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District Attorney claims home services company doesn’t bother with most criminal background checks that it advertises

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San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón announced Tuesday that his office is suing Colorado-based home services site HomeAdvisor, alleging that the company doesn’t bother with criminal background checks that it advertises and routinely sets up San Franciscans with plumbers, electricians, and repair specialists who have not been properly vetted.

Founded in 1999, HomeAdvisor markets itself as the “most comprehensive Internet tool available to consumers looking for home services.” Customers use the site to engage contractors for repairs and remodels.

According to this week’s suit, HomeAdvisor frequently refers to contractors listed in its marketplace as “screened” and subject to criminal background checks. But the DA’s office claims that few such checks ever happen:

HomeAdvisor’s advertisements are false and misleading because they are likely to deceive consumers into believing that all service professionals hired through HomeAdvisor who come into their homes have passed criminal background checks. That is not the case.

The only person who undergoes a background check is the owner/principal of an independently owned business. HomeAdvisor does not conduct any background check (not even on the owner/principal) when the business is a franchise, dealer, or independent contractor of a larger national company.

Gascon in 2010.
Shawn Calhoun

The suit singles out 15 television ads and an unspecified number of radio spots that aired in San Francisco, which Gascon alleges made bogus promises.

One of the ads, titled “Mailboxes,” tells audiences they can “find and book a background checked home pro.” In another, called “Grateful Dad,” an actor claims “they do background checks, so you know you can trust them.”

Per Gascon’s suit, the claims in these ads are technically correct: HomeAdvisor does indeed perform criminal background checks. Just not on very many people. The litigation will presumably hinge on what the courts believe the company is actually promising in its commercials.

HomeAdvisor’s FAQ specifies:

Criminal & sex offender background check: We check the websites that consolidate state sex offender information in the state in which the owner/principal of the company is located to confirm that there is not a match based solely on the name of the owner/principal of the company.

This is the only explanation of the background check process referenced on the site. No one at HomeAdvisor was immediately available for comment. [Update: HomeAdvisor tells Curbed SF it does not comment on ongoing legal action. So that’s that.]