After a Disaster:
Repairing Your Home
If your house has been damaged by
a natural disaster - flood, fire, snow/ice, tornado or earthquake -
chances are you're on the hunt for a reputable contractor to help
with repair and restoration. Inevitably, the demand for qualified
contractors after a disaster usually exceeds the supply. Enter the
home repair rip-off artist, who may overcharge, perform shoddy work
or skip town without finishing your job.
Because many legitimate licensed
home repair companies can be booked solid for months, frustrated and
anxious homeowners and landlords, eager to get their property back
in shape, may neglect to take the usual precautions when hiring
contractors. As a result, some consumers find that they've hired
part-time contractors, who may not get the job done in a reasonable
time; contractors from surrounding areas, who may be difficult to
track down for follow-up; inexperienced contractors, who may not do
the job well; and all too often, just plain crooks, who are seizing
the opportunity to make a fast buck.
Many communities have emergency
ordinances in place to keep crooked contractors out. But for
consumers desperate to get the work done, recognizing a home repair
rip-off can be a challenge.
The Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency offer the
following tips for consumers who may be facing major repairs after a
disaster hits home:
Deal only with licensed and
insured contractors. Verify the track record of any roofer,
builder or contractor you're thinking of hiring. Ask for a list of
recent customers and call them.
Get recommendations from
friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, insurance agents or
claims adjusters. Also check with the local Better Business Bureau
and Home Builders Association to see if complaints have been
lodged against any contractor you're considering.
Take your time about signing a
contract. Get a written estimate that includes any oral promises
the contractor made. But remember to ask if there's a charge for
an estimate before allowing anyone into your home. Ask for
explanations for price variations, and don't automatically choose
the lowest bidder. Get a copy of the final, signed contract before
the job begins.
Resist dealing with any
contractor who asks you to pay for the entire job up-front. A
deposit of one-third of the total price is standard procedure. Pay
only by check or credit card - and pay the final amount only after
the work is completed to your satisfaction. Don't pay cash.
Be skeptical of contractors who
encourage you to spend a lot of money on temporary repairs. Make
sure there's enough money for permanent repairs.
Ask a knowledgeable friend,
relative or attorney to review a home repair contract before you
sign. If you get a loan to pay for the work, be cautious about
using your home as security: If you don't repay the loan as
agreed, you could lose your home. Consider asking an attorney to
review the loan documents, as well.
If you suspect a repair rip-off, call the
consumer division of your state Attorney General. If you suspect
fraud, waste, or abuse involving Federal Emergency Management Agency
disaster assistance programs, report it to FEMA's Inspector
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER