In the wake of a natural disaster such as Saturday’s tornadoes, it’s common for contractors to flock to the damaged areas, seeking repair work. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has tips for residents to ensure the workers they hire are legitimate.
“Contractors we call ‘storm chasers’ head to these areas to persuade storm victims to hire them on the spot for cleanup and repair work,” Attorney General Tom Miller said after the August 2020 derecho. “Homeowners must be prepared for these contractors’ pitches and promises.”
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Shop local, and ask for references
The state urges property owners to work with an established and reputable local business, and to be especially wary of contractors who show up at their front doors seeking work. A company not listed in the local phone directory, or one that uses a post office box or office suite number as an address, may be from out of town.
It’s also important to vet potential contractors by asking for local references, checking their registration and bonding on the Iowa Division of Labor website at iowadivisionoflabor.gov/contractor-registration, and asking for a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance policy. All of these should be checked before signing any contracts or handing over money.
The Better Business Bureau and the Iowa attorney general’s website at iowaattorneygeneral.gov also will have records of complaints against particular contractors.
Work through your insurer
It’s important for property owners to work closely with their insurers as they begin repairs, said Hilary Segura, a vice president for the American Property Casualty Insurance Association.
The association recommends property owners consult with their insurance agent or insurance company to make sure they are hiring a reputable contractor. Other steps that can speed up the process include photographing and keeping an inventory of losses and keeping records of hotel bills, lost business revenue and other costs connected to the damage.
Miller’s office also recommends negotiating details with the insurance company rather than directly with a contractor and not signing any contract until the insurer has confirmed it will cover the cost of repairs. Local banks and credit unions can also be a good source of repair loans.
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If a property owner signs a contract somewhere other than at the contractor’s regular place of business, such as at the owner’s home, and later regrets it, the owner has three business days to cancel without penalty.
Beware of the hard sell
Al Perales, an investigator with the attorney general’s consumer protection division, advises particular caution when dealing with contractors who seem to be attempting a “hard sell.”
“If you are ever in a situation where they’re asking for money, and they’re asking for money right now, and there’s fear, excitement, or pulling of your heartstrings, it’s a scam. It’s a downright scam,” Perales said.
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