Post-Disaster Home Repairs

Jeanette A. Tucker  |  7/17/2008 11:41:24 PM

Homeowners often face home rebuilding or repair needs in the wake of disasters like floods and hurricanes. If you are trying to put your life back in order and don’t feel you are in a state of mind to make sound decisions, ask a friend, family member or professional consultant to assist you. Selecting a competent contractor to make home repairs is one of the most important things you will need to do to put your home and life back in order.

Employ only licensed contractors. Unlicensed contractors are not regulated and may not have the skills or knowledge to repair damage properly. Additionally, your options are limited if you use unlicensed contractors and are not satisfied with their performance.

To verify that a contractor is licensed, check with the Louisiana State Licensing Board for Contractors at 225-765-2301. A professional residential builder constructing a project over $50,000 must be licensed and must obtain workers' compensation insurance and general liability insurance. A remodeler or subcontractor providing construction, alteration, renovation repair, removal or demolition to an owner-occupied building in excess of $7,500 must be registered as a home improvement contractor.

As you attempt to restore your life and home after a storm, the availability of local companies and licensed contractors to perform the necessary services may be limited. It often may be advisable to do temporary repairs and wait for local contractors who will be there to guarantee their work long after the storm is over. If it is necessary to complete the repairs, however, it is important to receive good-quality work, or major deterioration may appear later.

Outside contractors and workers are likely to enter the area after a disaster to offer their services. Some are honest and will do an adequate job, but be careful in working with outside contractors. It is advisable, if possible, to check with the Better Business Bureau, either in Louisiana or in the state and city where the company or person is located, to determine if there are complaints against contractors under consideration. It is also advisable to check with at least three references for whom the contractor under consideration has completed work. Determine if they have performed in a timely manner and review the quality of their workmanship.

Shop around. Get at least three written bids or estimates. Compare both prices and terms. Also ask for proof of insurance. The contractor should have workers' compensation and general liability insurance or you may be liable for any accidents on your property.

Before work begins, sign a contract, which outlines all conditions of the work including time and payment schedules, work to be completed, materials to be provided and other items important to the project. Make certain you get all promises in writing; oral contracts are very difficult to enforce. For major projects you may want to have an attorney review the contract before you sign.

Elements of the contract include:

  • The offer and acceptance (agreement) to do things in a specific manner. State clearly, simply and completely all that is to be done. If beginning and finishing dates are involved, state them in the body of the contract. A good item to include in a contract for home rebuilding is that materials and procedures used will be those provided for in minimum standards of the current building code.
  • Guarantees. Include what is guaranteed and for how long. Also include who is responsible for the guarantee (contractor, dealer or manufacturer).
  • Permits. Define who is responsible for obtaining and paying for required building permits.
  • Parties. All parties involved must be at least 18 years of age and mentally competent. All parties must sign the contract.
  • Payment. The amount to be paid and schedule of payments should be included in the contract. The schedule should be based on progress toward completion, not on the passage of time. Exercise your right to inspect all work or hire someone to inspect the work for you. Pay with check or money order — never with cash. If a deposit is required, pay 10 percent or $1,000 down, whichever is less.
  • Change orders. The contract should specify procedures to be used to change the original work order.

Be sure to keep a copy of the signed contract. Withhold final payment until:

  • You received receipts that all bills for all materials have been paid.
  • Everything has been completed on the job is to the satisfaction of the contract and to the satisfaction of you and your inspector.
  • The contractor has provided you with releases of lien from himself/herself, suppliers and labor contractors.

Beware of contractors who solicit your business. Only do business with contractors with whom you have made the initial contact. Were you pressured into signing a contract? Federal law gives you three days to cancel such a contract after you sign it. Send your notice of cancellation by registered mail.

If your contractor fails to live up to the terms of the contract, try to resolve the problem with him directly. If you are unsuccessful, contact the Consumer Protection Section of the Attorney General’s Office at 800-351-4889. In Baton Rouge, the local number is 225-326-6465.

Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into hiring a contractor with whom you don’t feel comfortable. Take your time and find a contractor with a good reputation and with whom you feel comfortable. You will live with the work done by that contractor for a long time.

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