Many Mississippians whose homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina’s onslaught are beginning to repair and rebuild. The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have some practical suggestions for those who plan to hire contractors to help with their rebuilding efforts.
“As the real work of the rebuilding effort gets under way, we are offering property owners some brief guidelines and resource information that we hope will help ensure success during reconstruction,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Nick Russo.
* Use reliable, licensed contractors: Exercise due diligence. If you’d had positive experience with local contractors previously, start there. If they are unavailable, ask them for referrals. Check contractors’ background for outstanding complaints with the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi at 1-800-987-8280. Ensure the contractors are properly licensed through the Mississippi State Board of Contractors at 1-800-880-6161 or the Disaster Contractors Network online at www.DCNonline.org. FEMA and MEMA do NOT certify or endorse any contractor.
* Check references: Contact contractors’ former clients to find out their level of satisfaction with the work.
* Ask for proof of insurance: Make sure the contractors have general liability and worker’s compensation insurance. If they don’t, YOU may be held liable for accidents on your property.
* Get a written estimate: Get more than one contractor to give you an estimate. Insist on getting a written estimate that includes everything you expect of the contractor. Generally there is no fee for an estimate.
* Building permits: Contact your local municipality for details regarding the permit(s) required for the work you intend to do.
* Contracts: Make sure the contract is clear and spells out all of the specific work to be completed, costs, payment schedule and timeframe. NEVER sign a blank contract!
* Canceling a contract: If necessary, canceling a contract should be done within three business days of signing the agreement. Be sure to follow the agreements stated in the cancellation clause(s) in your contract. Send the notification by registered mail with a return receipt for the contractor to sign.
* Ask for a written guarantee: If the contractor provides guarantees, get all information in writing and include as many specifics as possible on coverage, expirations and limitations.
* Have work inspected: Make sure all work is completed as agreed upon in the contract to your satisfaction before you sign any completion papers or issue final payment.
* Payment: The safest way to pay is by check. A reasonable amount for a down payment is 30 percent of the total project cost.
* Get a receipt: Ask the contractor for all receipts related to your project.
Consumers who have issues regarding contractors should contact the Consumer Protection Division at the Mississippi Attorney General’s office toll-free at 1-800-281-4418 or online at www.ago.state.ms.us. To report fraud, call the FEMA toll-free hotline at 1-800-323-8603.
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