FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida. It can be tough to live with a broken window or a damaged roof after a hurricane, but it is important to take the time to find the right contractor to fix your home to ensure long-lasting repairs. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the storm, dishonest contractors may use the confusion and stress to overbill homeowners for their repairs. With so much work as a result of a severe wind storm, Hurricane or other weather event, everyone might be looking for contractors, and they may be overbooked. Traveling contractors may come into the area to get work. Sometimes, not all of these contractors are licensed. According to the Sun Sentinel, these contractors are known as “storm chasers.” They may not have the licensing to perform repairs or they may inflate the cost of repairs. Unfortunately, the people who most often suffer when this happens are homeowners who may then have trouble getting their insurance claims paid.
One of the ways that contractors push homeowners into working with their companies is by requiring homeowners to sign “assignment of benefits” forms. This form essentially assigns your insurance claim to your contractor and can limit your ability to negotiate with either party. According to the Sun Sentinel, homeowners should always speak to their insurance company before signing an assignment of benefits form. We suggest speaking to your Public Adjuster or an attorney that is trained and experienced in this specific area of law versus speaking to your insurance company as some of the people you speak to may think they understand the law or applicable issue but do not or they may be telling you what is best for the insurance company and not you, the insured. Some policies may limit an assignment of benefits or have requirements about notification or time periods in which the work can and/or cannot be done. You may also want to get an idea of what coverage your carrier is affording before obligating yourself to potentially big bills that most vendors will look to you to pay if insurance does not.
It is also important to understand the language in what you are signing in any contract, direction to pay or “assignment of benefits”, what you are giving up and what work is being done and why. It is not uncommon for less reputable companies to offer unreasonable work or services that may not be covered, bill you for work or services that were not actually performed or doing things that may cause what would have been a covered claim to no longer be covered. Some assignments are poorly written as has the insured assign the entire claim and not just the limited portion for the services being rendered. This could prevent you from collecting on your own insurance claim at all! Of course, insurance adjusters may not properly estimate a claim, either. This is why it is often wise to get a few estimates for your repairs before choosing an adjuster. In general, homeowners should take the time to get at least three estimates before choosing a contractor and should be cautious when dealing with contractors who make low estimates. In the aftermath of a storm, it might be hard to wait it out while you find contractors to do the job, but making a mistake in who you choose to perform your repairs can be much more costly in the long run. Be mindful that you will be obligated to turn over any estimates you obtain. If someone does not know what they are doing, misses part of the necessary work (lack of experience, not diligent, something that they cannot physically see but should have anticipated, etc.) or underestimates the job, the insurance company will try to use that as evidence that your claim is worth less than the actual cost will be to repair. You should make sure you are comfortable with the person giving the estimate, that they are experienced and the estimate is comprehensive (including things they can reasonably anticipate but may be hidden), that they estimate permit fees and related costs, any movement or manipulation of furniture, fixtures and contents while they work and any other expenses that may be related like storage, dumpsters, clean-up, etc.
So, what can you do to protect yourself?
First of all, be wary of any contractor who asks for the full cost of repairs up front. A reasonable up-front payment is 10 percent. You need to agree on a reasonable payment schedule from there based upon work completed. Make sure to hold back a reasonable portion not to be paid until completion. Secondly, ask around with neighbors or friends. They may know a contractor who has performed good work. Next, verify your contractor’s license before signing anything for repairs. Homeowners should also make sure that the contractor is properly insured for the work they are doing as well as having workers compensation coverage for anyone that they are bringing to your property, whether a direct employee to independent contractor. If the workers get hurt on your property, you could be held liable for their injuries. Worse, if the contractor damages your neighbor’s property and isn’t insured, you may need to foot the bill.
According to Popular Mechanics, homeowners should trust their gut when choosing a contractor. Contractors may need to be in your home for days or weeks or longer.
Finally, ask for a detailed contract of all work that will be performed. This way, if anything goes wrong or not as planned, you have a contract ready to protect yourself. You’ll also need to show your insurer the work that was performed and the cost of the work. A contract can help you better do this.
If you are not sure about anything in the contract, or if your insurance claim is being denied after repairs have been done, consider speaking to an unpaid insurance claim lawyer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Leader & Leader, P.A. are unpaid insurance claim lawyers who may be able to help. Visit our firm at https://leader-law.com/ to learn more about your options and rights.