September 24, 2010 – St. Paul, MN – The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is reminding people that while natural disasters often bring out the best in people, there are a handful of companies and individuals who will attempt to take advantage of the victims.
Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve home and yard repairs or clean-up. The BBB offers the following tips to homeowners who have suffered property damage:
- Contact your insurance company immediately to inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. This gets the ball rolling on the claim process, and might make you eligible for loss-of-use benefits – meaning you could be reimbursed for hotel costs, food, and other living expenses while your house is unavailable. Be sure to save all of your receipts.
- Document the damage to your property and possessions thoroughly; take pictures or video if possible. Go from room to room and create a detailed account of your belongings.
- Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for permanent repairs made without their authorization.
- Make any minor repairs to limit further damage to the home. You may be liable for damage that occurs after a storm has passed, so make temporary repairs, such as boarding up broken windows or throwing a tarp over a leaky roof.
- Get references from friends and relatives and contact the Better Business Bureau to obtain Reliability Reports on any company you are considering hiring. Visit our Website 24 hours a day at www.bbb.org. Or call 651-699-1111, toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Shop around and get more than one estimate.
- Ask all companies for proof of liability and workers compensation insurance as well as a license to do work in Minnesota. A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you. Local or national companies may both do a fine job with your storm damage repair needs. If you choose to do business with someone who is not local, be sure to understand who will be taking care of any service needs that may arise after the completion of the project.
- Understand the difference between warranties and guarantees. The manufacturer warranties their products and contractors have warranties on service. Contractors may also offer customer service guarantees. Get copies of any/all warranties and guarantees.
- Refrain from filing an insurance claim on something that you do not intend to fix. There could be repercussions from your insurance company when you do not make repairs you are being compensated for. Keep in mind that if you hold a mortgage on your home, your mortgage company may have a vested interest in you making the repairs and most will mandate you to make the repairs. Most checks from insurance come to the consumer with both the consumer’s name and the mortgage company’s name. Both need to sign off on the check.
- Some companies list bids on their own contract to do service work on your home/property and some do not (basing their pricing on "insurance allowance"). Both are acceptable methods of conducting business.
- Prepare a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. Be aware that anything you sign is a contract. Read carefully and avoid signing an "estimate" or "authorization" form before you have actually decided to hire a particular contractor. Pay special attention to any details in bold, that are underlined or that you need to initial.
- Be sure the name, address, license number and phone number of the contractor appear on all invoices and contracts!
- Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
- Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash.
- Review all documentation before signing on the dotted line and before making any payment. Be sure it specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Ask for a start and end date for the work to be done.
- Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Make temporary repairs if necessary. Storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.