Behind the Scenes of Contractors and Disaster Relief
When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, it did so with great force. Cost estimates for disaster relief are well into the billions. Meanwhile, this means an onslaught of contractors from various areas of the country. It suggests a quick review of the law when dealing with any type of remediation efforts.
Unfortunately, there’s always the chance that some unscrupulous contractor will come in and walk away with your money. If the estimates seem too good to be true, it may be because they have no intention of doing the work. Sadly, it’s a matter of national concern.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud reports that they have already investigated 70,000 complaints from past disaster recovery efforts. Over 1,300 disaster relief fraud cases came from Hurricane Katrina alone.
Contractors and Disaster Relief Victims
First, you should know that the federal government has placed several warnings regarding scams associated with local disaster victims. In fact, FEMA actually has a collection of links entitled “Harvey Rumor Control.”
While it’s unfortunate that such activity goes on, it’s a reality. A number of shady contractors have already hit Houston homeowners with promises they will not keep. If you haven’t retained services, here are some things you should consider before selecting a contractor to do remediation work for you:
- Secure a written cost estimate outlining the work and time frame
- Ask for and check references
- Determine the length of time the contractor has been in business
- Do complete due diligence checks
- Insist on a written contract
Some contractors may demand that you pay for the entire job before they even start with work. While it is customary to give a deposit, you should not be expected to dole out the final total until completion of the project. You should also know that under Texas law, certain disaster remediation contractors are bound by some legal requirements. Among them, is not accepting any money before starting the job.
Additionally, the Texas Property Code offers specific guidelines when it comes to lien waivers. Out of state contractors (or even local ones) may not be aware that they need to file these as you make payments. An attorney with experience in mechanic’s liens and construction liens can explain this to you further.
Contractors and Fraud
It’s bad enough to need services as a disaster victim. However, it’s blatantly unfair when you also find yourself the target of fraud. The good news is that there are both federal and state remedies to assist you.
In Texas, consumers are offered protection under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). There is a range of malfeasances that can fall under this act. For example, a contractor may promise to use specific materials and replace them with inferior ones. The quality of the work may be substandard and require retention of another company.
In addition to fraud, a homeowner may find that a contractor is in breach of a contract. An attorney can determine if this is the case and attempt to seek the appropriate recourse.
Manfred Sternberg and Associates is a part of the Houston community. We realize that the aftermath of Harvey relief is going to take time and money. Meanwhile, we want to do our best to help those who may find themselves victims of contractor fraud. Give us a call to discuss your concerns.