Immediately after a disaster, you may be solicited by public insurance adjusters, contractors, or other salespeople offering their services. These services may include (but are not limited to) handling your insurance claim, securing the property to prevent unauthorized entry, i.e. a board up, restoring utilities, installing shoring to prevent collapse, setting up temporary fencing or power, providing structural drying services, moving or cleaning personal property, removing debris and so forth.
Some of these services may be necessary for health and safety reasons and to protect the property from further damages. However, the timing of authorizing such work and who you choose are very important decisions. While many of these people may be honest and reputable, some are not. Use caution because some people who solicit disaster survivors may be scam artists eager to capitalize on the misfortunes of innocent people. Some of these people may be operating illegally or have a criminal history. Before you sign anything, find out who you are dealing with and don’t fall prey to high pressure sales tactics.
General contractors are required by law to have a valid contractor’s license issued by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). They should be able to provide proof they are licensed and carry workers’ compensation and general liability insurance.
Here are some important reminders from the California Department of Insurance, about property repair fraud. The following information is from www.insurance.ca.gov
Fraud having to do with property repair unusually involves unethical or incompetent building contractors. Consumers should be aware of the following red flags when getting quotes from building contractors:
- The contractor does not maintain a local work office, does not have a local telephone number, and relies exclusively on cell phone communications
- The contractor is not able or willing to provide local references
- The contractor’s place of contact is a hotel, tavern, work truck. Or another place that is not his/her place of employment or residence
- The contractor handles all business in person, avoiding use of mail
- The contractor wants a large cash payment up-front
- The contractor does not have adequate equipment to perform the job
- The contractor arrives at a loss site (home or business) without being solicited
- The contractor’s estimate is very general
- The contractor does not have a contractor’s license bond
- The contractor is unwilling to provide a certificate of insurance from her/his general liability or workers’ compensation insurance carrier.
- The contractor’s bid is far below the bods you have received from other contractors. The old adage, “if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is” applies here
It is a good practice to collect many business cards, interview several contractors, and request multiple bids for comparison. Make sure to read the fine print on all estimates and contracts. Do not do business with a contractor who does not carry the appropriate insurance coverage. If the contractor is not insured, you may be liable for accidents that occur on your property.