BBB Advises Residents to Beware of Shady Contractors After Wildfires

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With wildfires raging across southern California and no end in sight to the gusty Santa Ana winds, thousands of people have evacuated while others have seen their homes destroyed. This is a time when scam artists prey on the vulnerable, and Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles has some important advice to make sure you’re dealing with a reliable, trustworthy contractor.

With wildfires raging across southern California and no end in sight to the gusty Santa Ana winds, thousands of people have evacuated while others have seen their homes destroyed. Safety is the primary concern now, but in the days and weeks ahead residents will begin the arduous process of putting their lives back together and rebuilding.

This is a time when scam artists prey on the vulnerable, and Better Business Bureau of Los Angeles has some important advice for choosing a reliable, trustworthy contractor.

  •     Research their track record. Search for a contractor’s Business Profile at bbb.org to see if they are an Accredited Business, get free information on their history of complaints, and read verified Customer Reviews. Also ask for local references and speak with those customers about their experience with the vendor and the quality of work. If possible, inspect the contractor's work yourself. Ask if the contractor is a member of a professional association that has standards or a code of ethics.
  •     Ask for multiple quotes. Always shop around and get at least three quotes from different businesses. Make sure all bids consider the same set of criteria. Remember that the lowest bid may not necessarily be the best bid; if one bid is significantly lower than the others are, the contractor may be cutting corners or may not understand the work requirements.
  •     Get it in writing. Always get estimates in writing and never let any work begin without a written and signed contract. Do not be pressured into signing an agreement and understand everything before signing. The contract should include contact information, start and complete dates, a detailed description of the exact work to be done, any material costs, payment arrangements, and warranty information. Specify who is to obtain necessary building permits and who is responsible for clean-up. Make sure all verbal promises are included in the contract. Ask how much work will be subcontracted and ask for information on the subcontractors. Never sign an incomplete or partially blank contract.
  •     Verify license and insurance. Always be sure that the company has the necessary licenses and insurance to work in your region. Check with the Contractors State License Board in California. With the contractor’s insurance information in hand, call the carrier to confirm appropriate coverage for worker’s compensation, property damage, and personal liability in case of accidents.
  •     Confirm building permits. The contractor must have the correct permits before starting the project. They will usually obtain the permits, but the homeowner will probably pay for them. That should be detailed in the contract.
  •     Inquire about a lien waiver. A lien waiver is a statement from the contractor that says all suppliers and subcontractors have been paid for their work.
  •     Think about future service issues. Be aware of your warranty coverage and how to deal with service issues.
  •     Arrange a payment schedule. Never pay in full up front. Stagger the payments so the final payment is not due until the work is complete and it's been fully inspected. Do not pay cash; make sure the check is written to a company, not an individual, or that a credit card is used as payment.
  •     Get a receipt. Request a receipt marked “Paid in Full” when the job is completed and the final payment is made.
  •     Keep the contract for future reference or if any questions arise after the work is complete.

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org.

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