West Salem, WI -- Disasters are a time of confusion. Where do you call for help? Should you let that inspector in? How do you know a contractor is reputable?
Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials have suggestions to help people in areas under a major disaster declaration because of the recent storms or tornado.
"If you had damage or uninsured losses and have not yet applied, call FEMA's toll--free registration line -- 1--800--462--9029," said Tom Davies of FEMA. The TTY number for individuals who are speech-- or hearing--impaired is 1--800--462--7585.
Homeowners, renters and businesses in 15 Wisconsin counties are eligible for federal and state disaster assistance programs under a disaster declaration made by President Bush. Aid can include funding for temporary housing, U.S. Small Business Administration low--interest loans for individuals and businesses to repair or replace damaged property, disaster unemployment assistance and grants for serious needs and necessary expenses not met by other programs.
"After you register for disaster assistance, an inspector may call you directly to make an appointment to review your property," Davies said. "FEMA inspectors all have badges with photo identification."
"Inspection is part of the recovery process," said Al Shanks of WEM. "Applicants do not pay anything for inspections. Don't be fooled into thinking payment will speed the process or increase your assistance, either. If inspectors ask for money, they are committing fraud."
When it comes time to repair or rebuild your home, take care in choosing a contractor. "You don't want to be a fraud victim as well as a disaster victim," Shanks said. "Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous operators who try to take advantage of others' misfortunes."
WEM and FEMA offer the following "consumer be aware" guidelines:
Use Reliable, Licensed Contractors: Ask to see the contractor's license before signing a contract or agreeing to anything. Reputable contractors are licensed.
Get a Written Estimate: Be sure to 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. Deal locally if possible.
Ask for References: Call former customers who have had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
Proof of Insurance: Make sure the contractor carries general 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 or building.
Obtain a Contract: A complete contract will state the tasks to be performed and all associated costs. Never sign a blank contract or one with blank spaces. Make sure the agreement states who will apply for the necessary permits or licenses. Have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved.
Written Guarantees: Ask for a written guarantee stating who is responsible for equipment and materials.
Pay by Check: If possible, avoid on--the--spot cash payments. The safest route is to write a check made out to a contracting agency. Federal law requires a three--day "cooling off" period for unsolicited door--to--door sales of more than $25.
Canceling a Contract: Canceling a contract should be done within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the agreements stated in the cancellation clauses and send the notification by registered mail.
Have Work Inspected: If excava...