As the immediate crisis passes, consumers will start to evaluate any damage done and begin the clean-up process. BBB receives hundreds of complaints every year concerning sub-par work performed by contractors, and encourages consumers to take the time to properly research contractors to avoid creating a bigger problem.
In the event of a natural disaster, we would like to remind Floridians that any repair work performed on a home or a business should be completed by a licensed professional. Unlicensed contractors will often travel from out of state to a disaster area in attempt to take advantage of uninformed consumers. The best way to prepare is to be proactive in selecting a properly licensed contractor and to use good judgment with sales calls, door-to-door pitches or low prices that appear too good to be true.
BBB offers the following suggestions to help homeowners who find themselves repairing or rebuilding their home from storm damage:
- Contact your insurance adjuster immediately. Not only does this get the ball rolling on the claims process, but you might be eligible for loss-of-use benefits which means you could be reimbursed for hotel costs, food, and other living expenses while your house is unlivable. Be sure to document all conversations with your insurance company or their adjuster and get any promises for reimbursements in writing. Be sure to maintain all receipts.
- Start seeking out current replacement costs for items you'll be including in your claim rather than depending solely on historical costs.
- Document the damage to your property and possessions thoroughly; take pictures or video, if possible. Go from room to room or document all debris piles and create a detailed account of your belongings and losses.
- Make any minor repairs that you can do safely to minimize further damage to your home. You could be found liable for damage that occurs after a storm has passed, so make temporary repairs such as boarding up broken windows, removing wet drywall and carpet to prevent mold and putting up a tarp over a leaky roof. Beware of fly-by-night contractors who may try to offer these services for exorbitant fees. Be sure to get quotes in writing in advance or seek out volunteer groups in your area that may be offering assistance for free.
- If your home is unlivable, contact your utility company to turn off your water and gas or electric services.
- Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Make sure you understand how your homeowner's insurance company will reimburse your repair costs. Before spending money, call your insurance company first to make sure all necessary procedures are followed according to your policy.
- Beware of contractors who claim to be insurance claim specialists and may ask you to sign an agreement to allow them to contact your insurance company and seek approval of repairs for you. Many unscrupulous businesses have tricked consumers into signing a work estimate without reading the fine print, which commits you to automatically contract with their business if your insurance claim is approved. Click here for more information from Florida Department of Financial Services.
- Check to make sure any contractors you are considering hiring are properly licensed and have up-to-date workers compensation and liability insurance. In addition, check them out with your Better Business Bureau and make sure they are approved by your insurance company before entering an agreement. Ask to see proof of their licensing and current certificate of insurance.
Be aware that if you hire an uninsured and unlicensed contractor and a serious injury were to occur to the contractor, you, as the person that hired them, could potentially be liable for paying the workers compensation benefits. This could turn a simple $1,000 repair into a bill for tens of thousands more.
In addition, a neighboring property, a passerby or other property that is negligently damaged by an unlicensed contractor can become a liability to the person that hired the contractor.
- Do not hand over an insurance check to a contractor for repairs prior to work being started. A good rule of thumb is to never give more than 1/3 of the job price up front and make sure that your insurance company has approved all repairs before your final payment is given to the business.
Disaster victims should never feel pressured to make a decision by an unknown contractor. Start With Trust and look for the BBB Accredited Business Seal. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses, visit www.bbb.org Always verify a contractor's license by visiting www.myfloridalicense.org, calling (850) 487-1395 or by downloading the free DBPR mobile app.
Click on the following links for detailed information from the BBB on repairing your home after storm or disaster damage:
“Storm Chaser” Scam - Red Flags
BBB Tip On: "Storm Chasers" After a Natural Disaster
Top 5 Contractor Scams
BBB Tips on Debris Removal
Hiring the Right Professional
Hiring Disaster Repair Contractors
Hiring a Roofing Contractor
Hiring a Tree Service Contractor
Avoid Being a Victim of Unlicensed Activity
Donating to Charities During a Disaster
Business/Nonprofit Recovery Assistance
The contact information for resource groups in this publication is provided as a public service, but does not indicate endorsement by the Better Business Bureau, nor does it indicate that any particular nonprofit organization has met the BBB Wise Giving Standards for Charity Accountability unless otherwise specified. Charity reports for the Clearwater and West Florida Region may be viewed online at www.bbb.org/west-florida. BBB Wise Giving Alliance reports on nationally soliciting charities may be viewed at www.bbb.org/charity or www.give.org.
Likewise, information in this publication is not intended as legal advice or financial advice. Please consult a reputable attorney, credentialed financial adviser, or qualified counselor for professional help with such matters.