Advice on dealing with aftermath of disasters
After the storms which caused disastrous flooding and major property damage to parts of the state, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is offering advice to those affected, as they begin the process of cleaning up and making repair decisions.
Natural disasters can bring out the best in people, as strangers reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, a crisis can also bring out persons whose sole goal is to take advantage of the victims. Some of the most common "after-disaster" scams involve your auto, home and yard repairs or clean-up. Your Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to people who have suffered storm or flood damage:
Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
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. Be pro-active in selecting a business and not re-active to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary and keep your receipts.
For major repairs, take time to shop around and get 3-4 estimates based on the same specifications and materials. Always ask for references and verify that businesses are licensed/registered to do work in your area; also, be aware that all work inside homes that pre-date 1978 must be performed by contractors that are Certified to Conduct Lead-Based Paint Activities and Renovations.
Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job "down the street" or who do not have a permanent place of business. If salespeople are going door-to-door, check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.
Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.
Require 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. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license - if applicable - and phone numbers are all included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don't sign a blank contract. You should receive a copy of the signed contract, and both a start and completion date should be included.
Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman's compensation, property damage and personal liability.
Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash! While many businesses may ask for a deposit, the BBB suggests that no more than one third of the project cost be paid up front. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor.
Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or choose an unknown business. For free BBB Business Reviews and lists of Accredited Businesses by industry, visit bbb.org or call 800-646-6222.