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Editorial - Don't let storm turn into a double whammy

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With summer storms, comes damage. And with damage, comes repair - and shady characters that will try to rip you off with shoddy or uncompleted work.

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In the wake of last week's thunderstorms, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) is reminding homeowners to do their homework before hiring a building contractor after a storm or anytime of the year.

"There are many companies in Minnesota that specialize in repairing roofs, siding and windows resulting from storm damage. Most of these contractors are reputable and licensed," said Ken Peterson, DLI commissioner. "However, after most storms unscrupulous operators try to take advantage of storm victims."

The single best piece of advice is to hire local contractors that you're familiar with and trust. Beware of the fly-by-night operators who go door-to-door soliciting repair work.

Before hiring a contractor, DLI suggests the following:

• Ask for the contractor's license number and contact DLI at 1-800-342-5354 to verify the builder is currently licensed and to find out if they have a disciplinary history. The status of a contractor's license can also be verified by using DLI's licensing/certificate search at www.doli.state.mn.us.

• Ask the contractor how long and where they have been in business.

• Ask for references and check with former customers to see if they were satisfied with the work.

• Ask for a Minnesota business address other than a post office box.

• Ask for a local phone number where the contractor can be reached during normal business hours.

• Check the contractor's litigation history on the state court system's website at http://pa.courts.state.mn.us/default.aspx.

Avoid contractors that:

• Arrive in an unmarked truck or van.

• Ask you to sign an estimate or authorization before you have decided to actually hire them.

• Appear to be willing to do the job at an unusually low price.

• Offer to pay your deductible or offer discounts or other compensation for hiring them.

• Provide only a post office box for their business address.

• Require full or substantial payment before work begins.

• Refuse to provide a written estimate or contract.

• Refuse to provide a license number issued by the state of Minnesota.

• Refuse to provide references.

• Show up at your door unsolicited or use high-pressure sales tactics.

Before you sign a contract, make sure it includes:

• A detailed summary of the work to be done.

• A description of materials.

• The total contract price or how the price will be calculated.

• Specific timelines and provisions explaining what will happen if the contractor fails to meet contractual deadlines.

Regulations are in place to protect homeowners entering into contracts with roofers. With certain restrictions, homeowners are allowed to cancel a roofing contract if their insurance company denies the claim.

When a bad storm strikes, don't let it become a double whammy by draining your finances. Do your homework and work with licensed contractors that stand behind their work.

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