Contracting Home Repairs and Avoiding Scams
Don't Let Your Client Fall Victim!
(posted at https://www.trla.org/home-repair-scams)
The following is useful advice that a volunteer attorney can provide to a client while assisting them in the disaster recovery process and allow one to focus on the substantive legal work being provided. It can also be used by volunteers at disaster assistance clinics as a handout to have attendees take with them.
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If your home was damaged after a disaster, it’s important to contract repairs in a way that protects you and your family. Unfortunately, disasters can bring out scam artists looking to take advantage of people in need, so remember to stay vigilant. We’ve compiled some tips below about the contracting process and warning signs about scams.
Questions To Ask During The Contracting Process
Make sure that the estimate is free before letting someone into your home. You should ask for their contact information and verify it. If need be, ask for references from past customers and call them.
If you have insurance, the company will send an adjuster to estimate the damage and repair costs. You do not have to accept the adjuster’s estimate. Get more than one estimate and don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away.
Yes, You Need A Written Contract
When hiring construction, you need a written contract to protect your rights. It should include:
- Total cost of the project, including a guaranteed maximum price.
- Starting and completion dates, followed by the phrase “time is of the essence.”
- A schedule of payments with each payment tied to the completion of a specific part of the work.
- A statement that the contractor is responsible for getting all required building permits and inspections.
- A statement that any change orders and price adjustments must be in writing and signed.
- A statement that the final payment and certificate of completion will be provided only after an outside inspector or insurance adjuster confirms that the work is up to building standards.
- A statement that says “final payment will be withheld until the contractor presents releases or proof of payment from major suppliers and all subcontractors.” This means that the workers and suppliers cannot ask you for money once you have paid the contractor.
- A statement that the contractor will provide a Certificate of Insurance covering workers’ compensation, property damage and personal liability so you won’t be responsible for worker injuries.
- Any other agreements or promises about the work to be done.
Never sign a contract with blank spaces; draw a line through them so they can’t be filled in later.
Under federal law, you have three days to cancel a contract for repairs on your homestead after you sign it. To cancel, send a letter of cancellation by certified mail, return receipt requested.
A contractor is able to legally fix a lien on your property when you sign a contract for home improvements on your house. That said, the contract must contain the following warning next to your signature:
"Important Notice: You and your contractor are responsible for meeting the terms and conditions of this contract. If you sign this contract and you fail to meet the terms and conditions of this contract, you may lose your legal ownership rights in your home. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS AND DUTIES UNDER THE LAW."
If you sign a contract with this language and you fail to make the payments, the company can take away your home.
Scam Warning Signs
You should be cautious if a contractor or repair person:
- Gives you an estimate that is lower than usual and pressures you to sign a contract right away.
- Has no business card, physical address, or drives an unmarked vehicle.
- Doesn’t give you a written, itemized estimate of the total cost of repairs.
- Wants to be paid upfront in full or be paid only in cash.
- Offers to cover your insurance deductible.
- Offers a loan through a lender to cover repair costs. Your contractor shouldn’t be selling you a loan.
- Wants your personal information (like your social security number).
- Offers to do the job for less with ‘leftover materials’.