If you sustained property damage and need to hire a contractor,
here are some things to make sure you check before you make an
* Know your contractor. A frequent problem after a disaster is a
"fly-by-night" contractor who takes deposits before starting work
or final payments before finishing. Ask for a list of recent
customers and call them for references.
* Get at least three estimates. Be certain the estimates are
itemized and are for the same work. Variations in the proposals
should be noted.
* Beware of repair businesses or individuals who solicit
door-to-door, arrive in unmarked vehicles, have a post office box
or temporary address, claim they are from another country or state
and are in the area solely to help disaster victims, or offer to
work for you only if you secure the necessary permits.
* If the repairs cost more than $2500, file a Notice of
Commencement with your local permitting office, and a notarized
Release of Lien will ensure your home is not sold for monies not
recouped by others that might not have been paid by the contractor.
To obtain information about Florida's Construction Lien Law, call
the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at
* Check on the contractor's address, license and complaint
history by contacting the Florida Department of Business and
Professional Regulation through its website at
www.myfloridalicense.com or via telephone at 850-487-1395, or,
contact your city or county building department. For further
complaint information, call the Florida Department of Agriculture
and Consumer Services at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352)
HAVE A WRITTEN CONTRACT FOR YOUR REPAIRS AND UNDERSTAND
IT BEFORE YOU SIGN. A CONTRACT SHOULD INCLUDE, AT A MINIMUM, THE
* It should be specific about the work to be done and the exact
type of materials to be used.
* The contract should show a beginning date and final
completion date. If a penalty assessment is stated for failing to
meet the completion date, the amount of the penalty should be
stated and how it is to be assessed.
* The contract should specify the terms of payment.
* Any warranties or guarantees of workmanship and materials
should be explicitly stated in the contract. Be sure of the
duration and what is covered.
* If the contract is on a "cost plus" or hourly basis, get a
written estimate and, if possible, a "ceiling" (maximum amount to
* The contract should specify that the contractor is to
obtain all permits or variances, carries full insurance on all
employees and "subcontractors," releases you from all liens, and
provides for a proper clean up.
SOME HOME IMPROVEMENT OR REPAIR CONTRACTS MAY BE CANCELED
WITHOUT PENALTY OR OBLIGATION BY MIDNIGHT OF THE THIRD BUSINESS
DAY AFTER SIGNING. THEY ARE:
* Those signed at a place other than the seller's normal place
of business, unless you requested the specific product or service.
* All door-to-door agreements, except for emergency home
* Those paid on an installment basis.
CREDIT AND FINANCES
* If you are unable to pay your bills, contact your creditors
and lending institutions and try to work out a payment schedule. Do
not wait until they contact you for being delinquent on the
* Contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit
Counseling (NFCC) at 1-800-388-2227 for help in negotiating with
* If seeking a loan, shop around. Compare finance charges
and interest rates for various lending institutions before signing
* Avoid doing business with anyone who, for an advanced fee,
"guarantees" you a loan.