Hurricane Sandy promises to leave destruction of all kinds in its wake.
It will also attract scammers looking for new prey.
While homeowners try to pick up the pieces, hucksters — costumed as reputable contractors — will come knocking. These guys know how to manipulate the emotions of those who are surveying the harm wreaked by the storm, all with an eye on your wallet.
“We know from past experience that fly-by-night contractors who are incompetent, dishonest, or both, will descend upon the storm-affected areas in the days and weeks, seeking to prey on the desperation of residents whose homes have been damaged by flooding, wind, and debris,” said Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa. “No matter how urgent or desperate your need for repairs, you must stop and take the time to learn all you can about any contractor who solicits you.”
Here’s how you can protect yourself:
START WITH YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY
First, contact your homeowner’s insurance company. Get yourself on a list for an adjuster to come to your property.
Don’t start cleaning up until you create an accurate record of what’s happened. Videotape the damage, and share it, plus any “before” videos you have, with your insurance adjuster.
Ask the insurance rep for contractor recommendations. Your insurer will recommend companies it trusts and has worked with before, and that increases the chances you’ll get the good guys.
Storms of Sandy’s magnitude bring out scammers who don’t wait for consumers to call — they come knocking — literally, on your door.
If a contractor is trolling your area and offers to get the job done fast, be suspicious.
The weeks and months following this storm will mean reputable contractors will have long waiting lists of jobs to do. Of course the wait will be frustrating, but the wait is better than getting taken for a ride.
CHECK THEM OUT
Whatever contractor you choose, make sure they’re in good standing with the state.
Call the Division of Consumer Affairs, which keeps track of contractors.
Ask about complaints: Consumer Affairs will tell consumers if a contractor has any complaints against it. Call the agency at (973) 504-6200 or (800) 242-5846 to ask for a company’s status.
Registration: While you have Consumer Affairs on the phone, make sure the contractor has properly registered with the state. Or, go to njconsumeraffairs.gov and click “licensee search.”
Insurance: If you’re going to do work with a contractor, he should give you a copy of his commercial general liability insurance. Call the insurer to confirm the policy is valid and will not expire before your job is completed.
Follow up on permits: Make sure the contractor gets the required permits, and if supposed to get the permits, put the contractor’s information — not yours — on the application. If you mistakenly say you’re the one doing the work, you may forfeit the protections afforded by law, Consumer Affairs said.
DON’T SIGN WITHOUT…
“Home improvement contractors” must give written contracts for all jobs that cost more than $500. Such contracts must:
- Be in writing and include the legal name and business address of the contractor, the start date, a completion date, a description of the work to be done and the total price.
- Include the contractor’s home improvement contractor registration number.
- Detail the contractor’s commercial general liability insurance and the telephone number of the insurer.
- Specify any and all warranties and guarantees in writing, listing name brands or quality of materials.
- Include a lien waiver, which is a receipt that states workers and suppliers will not ask you for money once you have paid the contractor.
- Offer a payment schedule. Never pay for an entire job up front or pay cash for the job. It’s fair to pay one-third upon the contract signing, and then the remaining payments should be specific and based on milestones of the job.
Include a three-day right of rescission, meaning you can cancel the contract for any reason before midnight of the third business day after signing. If you decide to cancel, put your cancellation in writing, save a copy and send it registered or certified mail, return receipt requested.