ST. PAUL, Minn. - Homeowners dealing with property damage in the wake of the severe weekend storms can be victimized again by unscrupulous individuals offering cleanup services if they don't know what to look for.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is reminding people to take precautions when cleaning up and making repair decisions. Though most contractors and tree trimmers have your best interests in mind and want to help, there are others that are only interested in helping themselves.
To avoid being ripped off, the BBB offers the following guidelines to homeowners who have incurred damage:
- Get references from friends and relatives and contact the Better Business Bureau to obtain free Business Reviews on any company you are considering hiring. Visit bbb.org or call toll-free at 1-800-646-6222. Shop around and get more than one estimate.
- Contact your insurance company immediately to inquire about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. This gets the ball rolling on the claim process.
- All companies and individuals that provide tree care or tree trimming services and/or who remove trees, limbs, branches, brush or shrubs for hire must register with the state of Minnesota's Tree Care Registry. This includes public, private, and governmental entities. To verify registration, visit www2.mda.state.mn.us/webapp/lis/default.jsp. It's also a good idea to ensure tree trimmers and brush removal services have any necessary city permits.
- Document the damage to your property (and autos); take pictures or video if possible.
Do not make any permanent repairs until you get approval from your insurance company. Your insurer might not fully reimburse you for permanent repairs made without their authorization.
- Make any minor repairs to limit further damage to the home. You may be liable for damage that occurs after the storm has passed, so make temporary repairs, such as boarding up broken windows or throwing a tarp over a leaky roof. Be sure to save all of your receipts.
- Ask all companies for proof of liability and workers compensation insurance as well as a license to do work in Minnesota. A contractor should be responsible for obtaining all necessary permits, not you.
- Prepare a written contract agreement with anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials.
- Be aware that anything you sign is a contract. Read carefully and avoid signing an "estimate" or "authorization" form before you have actually decided to hire a particular contractor. Pay special attention to any details in bold, that are underlined or that you need to initial.
- Be sure the name, address, license number and phone number of the contractor appear on all invoices and contracts.
- Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor.
Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash.
- Review all documentation before signing on the dotted line and before making any payment. Be sure it specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Ask for a start and end date for the work to be done.
- Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Make temporary repairs if necessary. Storm victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor.
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