PHOENIX, Ariz. -- State and federal disaster recovery officials advise Maricopa County residents to be extremely careful when hiring contractors to clean and repair disaster damage to their homes and businesses.
"In disaster situations, scam artists are often ready to take advantage of the misfortunes of others," warns Michael P. Austin, Director, Arizona Division of Emergency Management.
The Arizona Attorney General's Office and the Better Business Bureau offer the following suggestions:
- Use reliable licensed contractors and hire local contractors if possible; check with the Arizona Better Business Bureau and local business organizations for any outstanding complaints against them.
- Get a written estimate; read any fine print and compare several competing services and prices before settling on one contractor.
- Check references; call former customers to determine satisfaction with work done.
- Get proof of insurance; make sure contractor carries general liability and workers compensation.
- Ask for a written contract; never sign a blank contract. State all tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment schedule, and who applies for necessary permits and licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract if there is substantial costs involved; keep a copy of the signed contract.
- Ask for a written guarantee stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible, and length of validity.
- Pay by check; avoid on-the-spot cash payments. It is safest to write a check to the company; 30 percent of the total cost is a reasonable down payment.
- Have work inspected, especially on sewers or basement walls before they are hidden from view.
- If necessary, cancel a contract within three business days of signing, being sure to follow agreement in contract cancellation clauses; send notification by registered mail.
Victims who are having problems with a contractor or have been victims of fraud are urged to call the Arizona Registrar of Contractors at (602) 542-1525, the in-state toll free number 888-271-9286, or visit their web site www.rc.state.az.us. The number for the Arizona Attorney General's Office's Consumer Information and Complaint Unit is (602) 542-5763, or 800-352-8431.
"The recovery process can be a positive one if you take your time, talk to building officials and select a contractor with great care," Austin said.
If you sustained damage to your primary residence or business as a result of the severe storms and flooding, you should register for disaster assistance by calling toll-free 1-800-462-9029. Those with hearing- or speech-impairments may call TTY 1-800-462-7585. Application specialists take calls Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.