San Juan, PR -- State and federal disaster recovery officials are advising Puerto Rico residents who have disaster-related damage because of the May floods to be extremely careful when hiring contractors to clean-up and repair their homes and businesses.
"Scam artists seldom hesitate to capitalize on the misfortune of others," warned Justo Hernández, federal coordinating officer for the recovery effort.
The Attorney General's Office for the commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the Better Business Bureau offer the following "Consumer Beware" suggestions:
- Use Reliable, Licensed Contractors: Check with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Department of Consumer Affairs (721-3190) or the local Business Trades Council to make sure the contractor has no outstanding consumer complaints filed it.
- Check References: Call former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the contractor's performance.
- Proof of Insurance: Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance and workers' compensation. If the contractor is not insured, the homeowner may be liable for accidents that occur on the property or to the house/building.
- Get a Written Estimate: Obtain a written estimate for the job and read the fine print. Compare the services and prices of several reputable contractors before making a final decision. Hire local contractors if possible.
- Ask for a Written Contract: A complete contract should clearly state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs, the payment schedule, the time frame within which the work should be completed, and the time period during which the contract can be cancelled.
- Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces.
- Make sure the contract clearly states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses.
- Read the entire contract carefully.
- Have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of the signed contract.
- Written Guarantees: If the contractor provides any guarantees, they should be written into the contract clearly stating what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee, and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Canceling a Contract: If you wish to cancel a contract, be sure to follow the agreements stated in the cancellation clauses. Send the notification by registered mail.
- Have Work Inspected: It is a good idea to have work inspected by a qualified third party. Excavation work (e.g., sewers or basement walls) should be inspected before back-fill hides it from view.
- Pay by Check: Avoid "on-the-spot" cash payments. It is better to write a check to the contracting company. Always ask for a receipt that clearly details the service or product for which the payment was made.