When returning to a home that has sustained water damage, you must consider the possibility of mold damage. This must be dealt with quickly and properly in order to lessen or mitigate the problem of mold contamination.
Floods and other natural disasters can often bring out the best in people. Unfortunately, these stressful events attract unscrupulous or incompetent contractors out to make a fast buck from the misfortune of others. Your Better Business Bureau has the following suggestions for consumers needing to restore their homes after water damage:
· Don’t sign anything you don’t understand. Ask a friend, a relative, business person or an attorney to review any contract you do not understand. A second set of eyes reviewing a contract you are unsure about might save you lots of money and will not hurt in any event. If someone insists you have to sign on the spot, you need to go find another contractor.
· Hire only local contractors qualified in mold remediation and property restoration. To find local contractors and restorers check with the Cleaning and Restoration Association and the Restoration Industry Association for a list of contractors. When talking to a potential contractor for your restoration job, ask to see a list of references. Call them!
· Further, as a rule of thumb, be very suspicious of any contractor that contacts you out-of-the-blue or is going door-to-door to offer his services. It is the far better practice to deal only with people you have invited to come out to your property.
· Act promptly. Every insurance contract requires the policyholder to mitigate damages. Do what you can safely do to mitigate your loss. Some examples include cutting off the water, moving contents (things inside your house) to a safe place and tarping the roof (but only if it can be safely done).
· Do not be surprised if the insurance check is issued to both you and the lender that holds your mortgage. Your contractor may require you to sign a statement acknowledging that the lien of the mortgage attaches to the insurance check. This is a common practice since Hurricane Katrina and helps to make sure the insurance check is being used to restore the property.
· Keep a copy of any contract you sign or any warranty papers your contractor might give you.
· Don’t be in a hurry. If you live in an area in which there has been extensive damage it may take a while for local contractors to get around to you and you may be frustrated. That is understandable. But the scammer understands this too and will attempt to manipulate these feelings of frustration to your detriment. Again, try not to be pressured into making a decision that might come back to haunt you later.
· Be highly suspicious of any contractor that tries to get you to pay for the entire job on the front end. You may never see him again after you give him your money! For certain jobs it might be OK to pay a deposit. Again, check with a trusted friend, a relative or your insurance agent to see if payment of a deposit is customary for your particular job.
· Some contracts contain a clause where substantial cancellation fees or something called liquidated damages are required if the homeowner decides not to use the contractor after the cancellation period referred to in the contract. Liquidated damages are damages that both sides agree to up front if the contract is breached. Liquidated damages clauses are perfectly legal but they are often buried in the fine print of the contract. The liquidated damages clause in your contract may mean that you might be liable for as much as the entire dollar amount if you try to get out of the contract after the cancellation period! If an estimate or a contract is confusing don’t be afraid to ask the contractor to break it down into terms you can understand. Again, don’t sign anything you don’t understand or that you don’t agree with!
· People at the greatest risk from mold are people with asthma, allergies or other breathing conditions. Also people with suppressed immune systems are at higher risk of mold infections. If there is mold in your home it must be cleaned up and the water problem that caused it must be fixed. Controlling moisture is the most critical factor for preventing mold growth. If you don’t control the moisture, the mold will return.
· To remove mold from hard surfaces, use commercial products for this purpose or use a bleach solution of 1 cup of bleach to a gallon of water. Do not mix bleach with ammonia! Open windows and doors. Wear non-porous gloves, eyewear and a N95 mask and wear it when inside the building.
· If your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) was flooded, have the system checked and cleaned by a service technician before you turn it on.
In the unfortunate event that you have a complaint about a contractor or about the work done on your house or property you may contact us at www.bbb.org in order to take advantage of BBB’s dispute resolution services. You may also want to contact the Office of the Attorney General.
Water and mold damage from a natural disaster is a stressful event. And none of us are at our best when we are frustrated or stressed out. However, remembering these simple suggestions will help you make a better decision during a stressful time. Further, additional useful information on this subject can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
Storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or choose an unknown contractor. Start With Trust with your Better Business Bureau. For more storm-related resources, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and Business Reviews you can trust on local companies, visit www.bbb.org or call 877-267-5222.