If suffering storm damage was not bad enough, parasitic jacklegs usually invade the damage zone following a large-scale disaster. A catastrophic event draws these unscrupulous predators to homes damaged by the storm. Beware of unscrupulous contractors and the misery-upon-misery they inflict.
After a storm, among the more troubling calls I receive are from those victimized by unscrupulous contractors. Too many times, I receive calls from the adult children of victims, calling because an unlicensed contractor defrauded an elderly parent. he stories always have too parts: the first is what the con man told the property owner in order to get paid.
“I can give you a good deal if you pay me in cash.”
“I’m working under another guy’s license. I can get you the number.”
“I’m insured under another company’s policy.”
“We just finished a job a couple of streets over and though you looked like you needed help.”
“I need the money up front so I can buy the materials and pay my men.”
“Please sign this direct pay authorization so I can send it to your insurance company.”
“I’m from out of town and can’t cash a check here so I’ll need that (or half that) in cash today.”
The second part of the story is what the con man did after receiving payment in advance.
“They only came a couple of times and the work they did looks shoddy.”
“They found additional damage and got more money from me.”
“They took my money and stole my husband’s tools.”
“They said they had to go home to Florida because of a family emergency and haven’t come back.”
Attorney General Steve Marshall, the Alabama Department of Insurance, and the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board made a joint press release this week warning the public of the risks of dealing with unlicensed and unscrupulous contractors in the wake of the damage left by Hurricane Sally.
“Over the weeks and months ahead, many thousands of Alabamians will be in urgent need of home repairs. Unfortunately, unscrupulous operators frequently seek to take advantage of disaster victims, targeting those struggling to recover,” said AG Marshall.
To avoid being a victim, follow these best practices.
-The AHBLB maintains a mobile-friendly searchable database of all current licensees. Search the contractor’s last name and city of residence to confirm a valid, active license.
-If the contract price for repairs to your home exceeds $10,000, then the contractor must possess an unlimited license issued by the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board (AHBLB), which is printed on plastic like a credit card, as shown in the image below.
-If the contract price to repair your roof exceeds $2,500, then the contractor must possess an AHBLB roofer’s license.
-The AHBLB issues limited licenses to contractors engaged in a single trade, like painting. The holder of a limited license is not authorized to contract with a homeowner to perform any other work. If the repairs to your home will require both carpentry and painting, a limited licensee cannot do the work.
-If a state of emergency has been declared, the AHBLB is authorized to issue emergency licenses to roofers.
-Insist on seeing the contractor’s license card issued by the AHBLB. It’s the size of a credit card and looks like the image above.
-Match the name on the license to identification produced by the person with whom you are dealing. If the names or pictures don’t match, contact the AHBLB. For a corporate or llc contractor, request proof that the representative is an actual employee of the company named on the license.
-Check the contractor’s references. A well-qualified contractor ought to be able to produce a list with at least 5 references for whom the contractor has performed work recently. Call the references and ask about the quality of the work done and the reference’s overall satisfaction with the job.
-The AHBLB requires that its licensees only perform work under the terms of a written agreement that contains an offer and an acceptance and is signed by both parties.
-Know whether the work will be performed on a cost-plus or firm, fixed price basis. On a cost-plus job, the contractor performs the work for the cost of the materials and labor, plus 10-15%. The contract ought to specify the labor rates to be charged and the materials to be used. In the case of a firm, fixed price, the contract specifically identifies the work to be done and the materials to be used. Specify the quality of the finishes to be used. Most contractors estimate jobs based on “contractor” or “builder” grade materials. If the homeowner desires a building material of a specific type, such as a granite or tropical hardwood, have the contractor back the cost of that item out of the contract. The homeowner ought to deal with the material provider in order to obtain exactly what is desired.
-If the damage is covered by a policy of insurance, engage the adjuster in selecting a contractor.
-An agreement to tarp a damaged roof cannot be “converted” into an agreement to make permanent repairs to the roof.
-Never make full payment in advance or even a pay a substantial percentage. If you intend on being reimbursed for the repairs by your insurance company, make sure that you can prove that you actually paid the contract price with a copy of cancelled check or a written receipt noted on the contract and signed by the contractor.
Homeowners beware of unscrupulous contractors and follow the best practices outline here. If you have been victimized by an unscrupulous or unlicensed contractor, be sure to engage a well-qualified civil litigator.