As Florida Keys residents learned following the destructive Category 4 Hurricane Irma in September 2017, it can be tough to get licensed, qualified contractors to quickly get to work repairing your home or business following a tropical storm.Those contractors and their families may have evacuated and not yet returned, materials might be hard to come up and contractors might decide to repair their own homes first before hiring on to do others.

Be Aware of Scams

All of those factors can bring out scammers to a hurricane-damaged area. Using common sense, you can avoid those scammers taking advantage of you.

There are some basics, such as never buying a generator off a truck because it could be stolen or inoperable. In the same vein, it’s not a good idea to hire someone just riding through neighborhoods offering services cutting up downed foliage or doing roof repair. That deposit you give them might be gone forever as soon as the person drives away.

Only Hire Licensed Contractors

Never hire a contractor who doesn’t hold a state license. A license is one way to ensure the license holder is knowledgeable in his or her field and has passed muster with the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation. You can check on licenses through the My Florida License website and also by viewing a comprehensive list of registered contractors (PDF) on the Monroe County website.

Know What You Are Paying For

If possible, your insurance company should evaluate your structure before repair work starts to let you know what your policy covers.

When selecting a contractor, whether it be for roofing, structural, electrical, plumbing or other work, get several written, itemized estimates for repairs. If a contractor comes in with an extremely low estimate, it might be a warning sign about the contractor’s ability to do the job.

Verify Potential Contractors

Ask for references that can be verified. And check to ensure the company has insurance; ask for written proof of a current policy.

Quick Tips

Other tips from the Florida Attorney General’s Office include:

  • Check to see if the contractor is bonded and verify with the bonding agency.
  • Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until you are satisfied with the work performed. Call your local building department and request an inspector come out to check it.
  • Homeowners may unknowingly have liens placed against their properties by suppliers or subcontractors who have not been paid by the contractor. If the contractor fails to pay them, the liens will remain on the title. Insist on releases of any liens that could be placed on the property from all subcontractors prior to making final payments.
  • Never pay the full amount of a repair up front and hesitate before providing large deposits. Florida law requires a contractor to apply for a permit within 30 days and start work within 90 days if he or she collects more than 10 percent of the contract up front.
  • Read the entire contract, including the fine print, before signing and ensure that the contract includes the required “buyer’s right to cancel” (within three days) language.