County residents warned of fraudulent contractors

Submitted by Linda Breazeale, PIO for Winston EMA

Winston County residents need to protect themselves from another wave of tornado damage: fraudulent contractors.
Homeowners and landowners are anxious to get recovery efforts underway. Families may be displaced until repairs are made, and delayed repairs may invite even more damage. Unfortunately, rushing into an agreement with a contractor could make matters even worse.
Bobbie Shaffett, family resource management professor with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said shoddy workmanship and price gouging are common following crises.
“The stressful recovery time makes homeowners easy targets for unethical workers taking advantage of people who are anxious to begin home repair work,” Shaffett said. “Victims must be careful about hiring strangers to remove trees and do repair work. Read every agreement and credit contract carefully and evaluate it before signing.”
Shaffett said homeowners should immediately contact their insurance companies, if insured. The insurance company may require specific procedures be followed to collect for repairs. If the homeowner is responsible for arranging for the repairs, there are certain precautions to follow.
Investigate the work quality and reliability of the home repair contractor or the worker being considered. Ask for applicable licenses.
Always get agreements in writing, signed by both parties before work begins. Verbal agreements can be misunderstood and usually cannot be enforced.

Contracts…

Contracts for home improvement projects should include the following information:

  • Approximate date for beginning the work and a completion date.
  • A detailed description of the work to be done, describing the materials and grades to be used as well as the repairs to be made.
  • All financing information required by state and federal laws.
  • Any warranty agreements.
  • Name and address of contractor and person for whom work is to be done.

Never pay a contractor or sign a completion certificate until all work is satisfactorily done.
“If considerable work is necessary, consider dividing the cost for the work into several payments,” Shaffett said. “Owners may want to pay for materials directly to the supplier because if a worker collects for materials and then doesn’t pay the supplier, a lien may be put on their property.”

Landlords and Tenants…

Shaffett said those who are renting a residence have special rights and responsibilities. Damage to personal property is the renter’s responsibility.
“Renters should immediately notify the landlord of any damage to the property and reasonably try to help protect it from any additional damage. The landlord is responsible for having the residence repaired and returned to livable condition,” she said. “If repairs are not made within a reasonable time, the tenant has the right to reduced rent or perhaps to terminate the lease and move.”

Tree Removal…

When the storm is over, workers may appear with chainsaws, eager to make a “fast buck” removing trees and other damaged property. Tree removal requires great skill and the proper equipment. Local tree services are typically the most reliable options.
Improperly felled trees can damage more property and injure people. Professional tree services are licensed, insured and experienced. They carry liability insurance protecting the homeowner from a lawsuit in case of an accident.
Shaffett said landowners need a cost estimate of the work and a date for completion. Specify the number of trees for removal and plans for stumps. Try to get estimates from more than one tree service. All details of the agreement should be in a contract and signed by the tree service and homeowner.
“When there is this much local damage, tree services from throughout the region may come to help clear,” she said. “Before hiring one of these companies, ask to see its license and evidence of liability insurance. Get all pertinent information in a written contract before hiring anyone and before work begins.”
Shaffett warned if an independent tree cutter is hired in spite of the risks involved, draw up a written contract that clearly spells out the work to be done (such as number of trees to be cut, stump height or treatment, disposal plans, beginning and completion date of work, and amount to be paid and when).
Never pay for work before it is done. Include a statement about who is responsible for expenses in case of an accident. This should include what happens if the worker damages your property accidentally and who pays if the worker is injured.