So you’ve been hit with some unfortunate luck. Your home has been damaged by weather, an unforeseen event, or some act of God. The damage is severe and you can’t fix it on your own. You’re going to have to turn to a contractor to help with the repairs. Of course, giving your money to and putting your trust in contractors during this vulnerable time can be stressful and worrisome. Fraudulent contractors do exist, and they’re more common than you think. Here’s how to handle it.
You’ve been duped
It can happen before you know it. You pay a contractor for work and they don’t show up. Or they only complete part of the work and vanish into thin air. Or they complete the job, but it’s shoddy work. All of these are examples of contracting fraud. What is your recourse?
If a contractor is doing subpar work or takes an exorbitant amount of time to finish the job, you can fire the contractor. You’ll need to show that they’ve breached the contract, which shouldn’t be hard if you have a well-written contract.
If you’ve failed to secure a solid contract, your option may seem dire. HouseLogic.com suggests you request an arbitration meeting with someone like the Better Business Bureau or an agreed-upon mediator.
The contractor took my money
If the situation is bad – really bad – then you may need to up the ante. Your next two options if the contractor refuses mediation are the courts and the law. If a contractor took your money and refuses to finish the job, you can always call the police. You have a claim of theft.
Legally, you can either hire a private attorney or seek damages in small claims court. The latter may not be worth it, depending on the size of your claim. Many states have small claims caps of between $2,500 and $5,000.
Preventing contractor fraud in the first place
The best and most effective way to deal with fraudulent contractors is to not get involved with them in the first place, and/or put safeguards in place from the get-go.
Try to hire local, established, licensed contractors. Be wary of contractors that are from out of state or do not have local offices. Confirm that the contractors have roots (a physical office, phone number, etc) in your area. Also, you should seek out contractors – contractors shouldn’t seek you out. Be especially cautious when dealing with cold call or door-to-door contractors.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and demand proof of their legitimacy. Ask about their subcontracting practices. Ask to see pictures of their previous work. Check sites like Angie’s List and do your research. A contractor with one bad review may just mean they ran afoul of a difficult customer. A contractor with multiple negative reviews – or worse, no reviews – may be a fraud.
Get a contract before they start
And once you’ve secured a contractor for the job, get a contract in writing. Don’t rely on verbal assurances. The contract should be incredibly thorough and specific. Make sure it includes a clause that any changes to the plan (different materials, extra work, timeline changes) must be approved by you first. These “last minute” project changes are a common tool of unreputable contractors. It never hurts to have a legal professional take a look at the contract before you sign anything.
Do what you can to prevent serious home damage in any way that you can. Of course, you’re not going to be able to prevent hurricane or tornado damage entirely, but you can, for instance, prevent surge damage with surge protection. And you can board up windows and cut questionable tree limbs before a major storm or tornado approaches.
Sometimes you can’t get prepare in time and a storm or major event will take you by surprise. When you’re left with a severely damaged home, be wary and cautious when contracting for home repairs. By hiring professional and well-recommended contractors, you’ll get the job done right and sleep better knowing you made the best choice.