BURLINGTON, Vt. – Contractors are essential to Vermont’s recovery following Tropical Storm Irene, but state and federal officials are advising Vermonters to use care when hiring them.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency does not recommend or endorse any contractors, nor does the state. “If contractors claim they are authorized by FEMA to do repair work, do not believe it,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Craig A. Gilbert.
Recently, some scammers have been offering to haul away destroyed manufactured housing at a reduced cost. But all they do is strip materials for resale and leave the debris behind on the owner’s property.
One way to avoid being taken by con artists when hiring contractors to make repairs is to make sure they are licensed. To find out whether a contractor is registered, you can check with the Office of the Vermont Secretary of State at www.sec.state.vt.us. Licensure is required for asbestos, plumbing and electrical work. A listing of licensed electrical and plumbing contractors can be found on the Vermont Department of Public Safety/Division of Fire Safety’s web site at: http://firesafety.vermont.gov and clicking on the Licensing/Certification tab.
Other tips for hiring contractors include:
- Get a written estimate and read the fine print – Always try to get estimates from several reputable contractors before making a decision. You may want to hire a local contractor if at all possible.
- Ask for a written contract – A complete contract should clearly state all the work to be performed, all associated costs, and the payment schedule, and obligate the contractor to pay for what was agreed upon, such as materials, etc.
- Permits – Make sure the contract clearly states who will obtain the necessary permits. You may want to have a lawyer review the contract if substantial costs are involved. Keep a copy of any signed contract.
- Proof of insurance – Make sure the contractor carries general liability insurance, workers’ compensation and is bonded. A homeowner could be liable for accidents on the property when working with an uninsured contractor.
- Pay by check – Avoid paying in advance and making payments in cash if at all possible. A reasonable down payment is 30 percent of the total cost of the project.
- If you have a question about a contractor or suspect fraud, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program office at (800) 649-2424 or (802) 656-3183. Vermont Attorney General web site: www.atg.state.vt.us
FEMA and state officials are also encouraging Vermonters to register with FEMA even if they’ve already made repairs. You will most likely be required to submit receipts for the work, but you may be eligible for reimbursement for uninsured losses.
To register, call ...