The victims of any natural disaster unfortunately often become victims of scam artists who profit from the misery of others.
If someone selling generators off of a truck on the corner they may have stolen them, or they may be inoperable. At the same, if someone is driving through a neighborhood offering to patch roofs or remove fallen trees they may never be seen again after collecting the deposit or payment. Even if the work is done, beware of price gouging as there have been reports of $7,000 tree and debris removal costs when it was really only a $500 job.
If your home is damaged, be sure to follow these tips when hiring a contractor:
- Have your insurance company evaluate the damage before arranging repairs to ensure that the work will be covered under your policy.
- Be wary of anyone who approaches you unsolicited or says they can perform your repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job.
- Verify that the contractor has a license
- If negotiating with contractors yourself try to get at least three written estimates.
- Research the contracting company and its reputation by asking for references. In addition you may want to contact the Attorney General’s office at 888-432-9257 and the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to see if there are complaints against the company.
- Check for proof of insurance and verify with the insurer that their policy is current.
- Never pay the full amount of a repair up front.
- Read the entire contract, including the fine print, before signing and ensure that the contract includes the required “buyer’s right to cancel” provisions (typically within 3 days).
- Homeowners may unknowingly have liens placed against their properties by suppliers or subcontractors who have not been paid by the contractor. If the contractor fails to pay them, the liens could remain on your title. Insist on releases of any liens that could be placed on the property from all subcontractors prior to making final payments.
- Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until you are satisfied with the work performed.
- Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame for completion. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance. Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there’s a problem. Be wary of writing checks made payable to individuals, especially when you are told you are dealing with a company.
Report an instance of price gouging or contractor fraud during a declared state of emergency to the Attorney General’s Office.