ANDOVER, Mass. -- State and federal disaster recovery officials advise Massachusetts residents who suffered disaster-related damages following the May flooding to be careful when hiring unknown contractors to clean up and repair their homes and businesses.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) neither certifies nor endorses any private-sector contractor. Residents must be especially alert for door-to-door solicitors who hand out makeshift flyers and promise to speed up the insurance or government claims process.
All FEMA and Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) personnel carry photo identification. Flood victims should never hesitate to ask to see it.
Emergency management officials also offer the following suggestions on how to be a wise consumer:
- Use reliable, licensed contractors. In Massachusetts, all home improvement contractors must be registered with the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS). Other professionals, such as plumbers, must be licensed. Check with the BBRS at (617) 727-7532 or http://www.mass.gov/bbrs to see whether the contractor is registered, and check with the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Massachusetts at 508-652-4800 or http://www.bosbbb.org/ to inquire about a business before signing a contract.
- 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. Hire local contractors, if possible. Some contractors charge a fee for an estimate, which is often applied to the price of subsequent repairs they make.
- Check references. Contractors should be willing to provide the names of previous customers. Call some former customers who had similar work done to make sure they were satisfied with the job.
- Ask for 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.
- Insist on a written contract. A complete contract should clearly state all the tasks to be performed, all associated costs and the payment schedule. 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. Have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved and keep a copy for your records.
- Get any guarantees in writing. Any guarantees made by the contractor should be written into the contract. The guarantee should clearly state what is guaranteed, who is responsible for the guarantee and how long the guarantee is valid.
- Have work inspected. If excavation work is being performed (e.g., sewers or basement walls) make sure a qualified inspector examines the work before it is hidden from view to avoid similar problems in the future.
- Make final payments when the work is completed. Do not sign completion papers or make the final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction. A reputable contractor will not threaten you or pressure you to sign if the job is not finished properly.
- Pay by check. Avoid on-the-spot cash payments. The safest route is to write a check to the contracting company. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project, to be paid upon initial delivery of materials. Federal law gives consumers a three-day "cooling off" period for unsolicited door-to door sales of more than $25.
- Cancel the contract if necessary. Canceling a contract should be done within three business days of signing. Be sure to follow the procedures for canc...