Hurricane Michael was the most intense hurricane to strike the United States since Andrew in 1992. It was also the strongest to ever strike Florida, crashing into the panhandle at 155 mph and tearing a swath through Panama City and Mexico Beach on October 10, 2018. In the wake of a storm as destructive as Hurricane Michael, many contractors and service providers will rush to the affected area to claim jobs.
Unfortunately, many providers will take advantage of property owners during this time who are worried, scared, and vulnerable to price gouging and inflated rates. If you speak with a contractor or builder about making temporary and/or permanent repairs to your home or property after Hurricane Michael, follow these tips before hiring:
TIPS BEFORE HIRING
Beware of door-to-door contractors who are looking to take advantage of homeowners after mass disasters. The need for their work is high and the homeowners often desperate for immediate repairs, so the situation often attracts contractors who are unqualified and make costly mistakes.
Seek referrals and check credentials to make sure that the contractor is licensed with the state, operates a reputable business, and has valid insurance which will not expire before your job's completion. You can verify licensing with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation here.
Contractors often hire subcontractors to perform some repairs. Make sure that your contractor specifies in the work contract who they will hire so you can check the credentials of these subcontractors as well.
SEEK LEGAL COUNSEL BEFORE SIGNING ANYTHING
Before signing an Assignment of Benefits, speak to an attorney. Assigning your rights as a policyholder over to a contractor can be a very risky thing to do and can severely impact your ability to ensure the repairs are done or collect on your claim.
GET ESTIMATES AND CONTRACTS IN WRITING
Get estimates in writing and obtain bids from at least three reputable contractors.
Read and understand the work contract and make sure the: 1) start and completion dates; 2) the scope of the repairs; 3) all materials; 4) costs; and 5) the payment schedule are all included in the contract and are in writing.
ORDER AND PROOF OF PAYMENT
Do not pay more than twenty to thirty percent up-front and never pay in cash. Keep all credit card and check receipts along the way as proof of payment.
Understand the Florida construction lien law and how they can impact your property rights if your contractor or subcontractors are not paid pursuant to their contracts. You can learn more about Florida's construction law and liens here.
KNOW WHAT TEMPORARY REPAIRS ARE REQUIRED AND AUTHORIZED
Damage to your property can occur from forces of nature like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fire, as well as the negligence of others like careless drivers or faulty workmen. Often you will need to make temporary repairs to prevent further damage, however your insurance may not cover permanent repairs. To ensure you make the best decision about repairs to your property after an accident or storm, either discuss the planned repairs with your insurance company first or contact an insurance law attorney to discuss your damages and your anticipated repairs.
If you have any questions about making repairs, hiring contractors, or working with adjusters after Hurricane Michael, do not hesitate to contact us. Making a bad decision after the storm because you were unaware of your rights can cost you more than you've already lost. There is no cost to learn your legal rights and getting solid legal advice.