In the weeks and months after a natural disaster, contractors tend to flood the affected area with tantalizing offers of rock-bottom rates for repairs and reconstruction services. This is prime season for scammers, who tend to cut corners, use low-grade materials or skip out on the job entirely after receiving payment.
Thus, when you hire a contractor to rebuild your home or property, it’s important to do some due diligence in selecting the contractor, both to ensure you are choosing a high-quality professional and to protect yourself in the event you end up filing a lawsuit against the contractor for a failure to complete the job as outlined in the contract.
The following are some steps you should take to protect yourself when hiring a contractor for hurricane repairs and reconstruction:
- Take your time: While some issues cannot wait (such as water damage, mold or anything else that could be especially dangerous), you can take the time you need to carefully research contractors before making a hire. This is an important decision you do not want to rush.
- Get as many references as possible: There are plenty of resources you can use to find high-quality contractors, including friends and family, previous customers and online reviews. In addition, you can check with the Virgin Islands Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs http://www.dlca.vi.gov to determine if any complaints had been filed regarding their services.
- Review qualifications: Make sure the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured in accordance with all the ordinances in your city or jurisdiction. You can ask the contractor for copies of its liability insurance declarations page and its bond. Ask about warranties offered by the contractor, and get any offered warranties in writing.
- Get bids in writing: You are likely going to investigate several different contractors, so when you ask for bids on the job, get those bids in writing. You should also get a repair timeline in writing.
- Get the proper permits: Make sure your contractor obtains a building permit, if required for the work being done. Ask for a copy of that permit if the city requires one for the project in question.
What happens if the contractor takes advantage of me?
If it is too late for you to use these tips because the contractor has already taken advantage of you, there are still some things you can do to protect yourself. These include the following steps:
- Immediately retain an attorney: If you do not know any attorneys, contact the Virgin Islands Bar Association http://www.vibar.org or another referral service. If you are unable to afford an attorney, contact the closest legal aid office.
- File a report: Submit a report about the contractor’s wrongdoing with your local law enforcement agency. If that agency cannot help you, contact the district attorney’s office in your area.
- Reviews: Leave honest, negative reviews with a thorough list of the contractor’s misdeeds on as many review sites as possible.
- Don’t pay: Do not give any more money to the contractor, and do not wait to take the above actions.
For more information regarding the steps you should take to protect yourself legally while seeking contractor assistance for hurricane reconstruction, consult a skilled civil litigation attorney in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tom Bolt is Managing Attorney of BoltNagi, a full service business law firm located on St. Thomas, VI.