Preparedness & Recovery

FEMA Offers Tips for Hiring Contractors

FEMA said incompetent and even criminal contractors will cause more challenges to victims.

by Daniel Tyson, The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va. / August 17, 2016
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(TNS) — As survivors begin the repair phase of flood recovery, FEMA and the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office are warning about unscrupulous contractors who often prey on those down and out.

FEMA said incompetent and even criminal contractors will cause more challenges to victims, so officials offered a number of tips to help avoid such a situation.

“Disasters bring out the best in many people who unselfishly help others. Unfortunately, they also attract scam artists who seek to take advantage of disaster survivors,” FEMA officials said recently.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said unlicensed contractors often will canvass neighborhoods offering to repair damaged property with deals that seem too good to be true. All too often, he said, they are. Work is never completed despite payment made.

“The despair in parts of our state is palpable,” he said. “We want to do what we can to ensure that victims won’t be targeted a second time.”

The first tip is to get a written estimate. FEMA suggests victims compare services and prices before making any decision. Also, read the fine print, as some contractors charge for a written estimate.

Insist on a written contract that details all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and a payment schedule. “Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces,” FEMA officials said.

The second tip is to check references. Contractors should provide the names and telephone numbers of former customers. Call these former customers who had similar work done to see if they were satisfied with the job.

FEMA also recommends victims check the type of license a contractor has to make sure the company has the correct certification to perform the specific repair work that is needed. Along those lines, ask for proof of insurance. A contractor should have general liability insurance and workers’ compensation.

“If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property,” FEMA officials warn.

To check if the contractor has a valid license, call the West Virginia Contractor Licensing Board at 1-304-558-7890.

Obtain any guarantees in writing. Any promise made by the contractor should be in written in a contract, FEMA advises. The guarantee should clearly state what is covered under the contract, who is responsible and how long the guarantee is valid.

Also, permits might be required at the work, Contact local government for permit information, FEMA suggests.

Finally, make payment plans when work is complete. FEMA and Morrisey warns not to sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is complete.

Also, pay by credit card or check, avoiding on-the-spot cash payments, FEMA warns.

“A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project, to be paid upon initial delivery of materials,” FEMA advises.

Additionally, Morrisey explained, state law requires contractors to allow the consumer five days to cancel roofing contracts without penalty for any portion of repairs not covered by the victim’s insurance policy. “The clock begins with the customer’s receipt of the insurance notice,” he said.

In a door-to-door sale, he explained, the consumer has three business days to cancel the contract.

Victims of flood-related home repair scams can call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808 or file a report at www.ago.wv.gov.

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©2016 The Register-Herald (Beckley, W.Va.)

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