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Storm Damage Repairs: Don't fall victim to 'storm chasers', shady contractors

Better Business Bureau Press Release - TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- The Better Business Bureau is warning local residents affected by the recent storms to beware of "storm chasers" and out-of-town contractors soliciting business.

Most companies who travel to areas in the wake of storms and disasters can fill a need, as local businesses may find it difficult to meet high demand.  Consumers need to do their research thoroughly and be educated on the potential risks of hiring a storm chaser.

"Disaster victims should never fell forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor," said Karen Nalven, President of Better Business Bureau serving West Florida.

"Make sure you choose a reputable company that will be there for you after the repairs are complete."

Your BBB offers the following tips for Tornado victims:

  • Check online with Florida Division of Corporations and ask for a local business tax receipt to verify that the company is registered to do business here.

    Note: An occupational license or Business Tax Receipt does not qualify an individual to act as a contractor.

  • While most roofing contractors are honest and will do good work, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your roof. Unethical contractors may actually create damage to get work. Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from licensed roofers and insist payments be made to the company, not an individual.
  • Remember that even if a person is licensed in another state to perform construction services, they must also obtain a state license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations to perform those services on your home or business.
  • Be proactive in selecting a contractor and not reactive to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches.  Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if salespeople go door-to-door. Verify that they need to have a permit by contacting your local township or municipality.
  • Trimming or removing a fallen tree, removing debris, and placing a tarp on a roof are services NOT requiring a State License. Consumers should check with their local building departments to determine if there are additional permitting and/or licensing requirements for their area.  Also find out if the company is insured against claims covering workers' compensation, property damage and personal liability in case of accidents. Verify coverage directly with the business' insurance company if possible.
  • Do not pay for the work in advance. Be wary of any contractor who insists on full or half payment upfront or who ask you to pull your own permit.  Always hold 10% until job is complete and you are satisfied.
  • More importantly, be wary of a contractor trying to push you to sign a contract that makes them the exclusive contractor to do the repair job. This restricts the consumer from shopping around for the best bid to repair the damage. Read all of the fine print in the contract and understand ALL terms and conditions within the contract.
  • Resist high pressure sales tactics such as the "good deal" you'll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot. Or if they've offered to work for your neighbor, friend or family at a deep discount. These are often red flags something is amiss.
  • Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance. Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there's a problem.  Be wary of writing checks made payable to individuals, especially when dealing with a company.
  • Check that the contractor's vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and the appropriate state license numbers. Then take the information and check it out at www.bbb.org.

BBB also warns area contractors to beware of storm chasers who are willing to pay local construction companies substantial amounts of money to use a local business's established name, reputation and phone so they can masquerade as a local business. Many contractors who agreed to let these storm chasers use their name regret their decision once they were left holding the bag of unsatisfied customers due to bad workmanship and/or unfulfilled warranties.

As part of an effort to educate all Floridians on the importance of hiring a licensed professional, BBB and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) are reminding Floridians to thoroughly research professionals and businesses prior to hiring and to report suspected unlicensed individuals. Unlicensed activity is against the law - BBB and DBPR take unlicensed activity very seriously because it threatens the safety of Florida's consumers as well as takes away business from licensed professionals throughout the state.

For more information on how to find properly licensed professionals, including an easy to use checklist, visit www.bbb.org/west-florida/licensing.

If you suspect unlicensed activity is taking place, report it directly to DBPR by calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 866-532-1440.

BBB Serving West Florida continues to work with local businesses and consumers to shed the light on schemes and fraud, while encouraging consumers to find reputable companies they can trust by looking for the BBB Accredited Business Seal.

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