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Drop Down Menus Html by Vista-Butt HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

Hiring a contractor can be dangerous. While the majority of contractors are honest and reliable, there are some bad apples. Abuses and outright fraud are not uncommon. Thats why you should (1) take serious precautions in selecting the contractor, (2) make sure the contract fully protects you and (3)know how to seek redress through several governmental agencies if problems arise despite your precautions.

Selecting a Contractor

If you need to hire a home repair contractor or remodeler, here's what you can do to protect yourself:

Check the Palm Beach Grapevines Recommended Businesses guide. While there are many good contractors who are not listed there, it is a fairly reliable but not infallible -- source of relievable contractors.

Check the contractor's licenses. Even if you get recommendations from neighbors, friends, or local companies, you'll still want to investigate contractors to make sure they have valid contractor's licenses. Investigating involves more than having a contractor's number. It means checking with the local building board to make sure the license is still active and to uncover any complaints registered against the licensee. Once you obtain the license number, you can easily verify if the contractor is in fact legitimately licensed by the state of Florida by visiting the website of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations and entering in the license number. This is precautionary step is so simple to do and yet so easily overlooked by many.

Note: This agency serves to keep the consumer informed of professional and business services by licensing and regulating businesses.

Check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints and ratings. If a case against the contractor has been opened but not closed satisfactorily, it should still appear in the Better Business Bureau's files. Newer contractors may not have complaints yet, so don't rely on this advice exclusively.

Check with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation

Review the useful tools and tips for protecting yourself from consumer fraud provided by the Office of the Attorney General.

Contact the Fraud Hotline: 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) (toll free within Florida

Examine the Searchable Database Of Active Economic Crimes Investigations

Check with the Department of State's Division of Corporations, (850) 488-9000.

Check with Citizens Services,: 850-414-3990

Ask for references. Get the names and contact information for at least three references who have had the same type of work done. Contact them to see whether they are satisfied.

Ask whether any surprises came up and how they were handled. View the sites where the work was done if possible.

Get firm bids. Make certain you understand the nature and full scope of the work to be done. Then bid the work out, comparing apples to apples. This means knowing what materials, finishes and fixtures you want ahead of time.

Ask questions. Homeowners often feel awkward when asking basic questions about their job. They don't want to appear naive, especially when they feel they should already know the answers.

It is important not to leave anything to chance. A miscommunication may cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

If the contractor answers questions vaguely, continue to ask questions until you understand. There's no shame in not knowing everything about the project. That's why you're hiring a contractor in the first place.

If a contractor answers questions condescendingly, don't mistake arrogance for competence. Part of being a good businessperson is people skills. The contractor should be straightforward, helpful, and thorough.

Read contracts carefully. Contracts are usually written by the contractor and are biased to protect the interests of the contractor, not the homeowner. Agree to any changes in writing. If in doubt, have your attorney review the contract.

Trust your instincts. Don't work with someone who continually postpones appointments or gives you an uneasy feeling. Depending on the project, this contractor may be around for several months. Make sure you'll have a good working relationship from the beginning.


What the Contract Should Cover

Before you sign any contract with a home repair contractor or remodeler, make certain it will protect you, your home, and your wallet.

Here are a few items to look for in the contract:

Party identification, signatures, dates. Contracts should identify the contractor's name, company name, contractor number and contact information. The date of signing should appear by your and the contractor's signatures.

Assignment of contract. The contract should specify who will be doing the work. Make sure it stipulates that the work may not be reassigned without your consent.

Key dates In addition to the date signed. Make certain the contract spells out the date work will commence and the estimated date of completion.

Scope of work. The description of the project's scope should detail the work to be done and the type and quantity of materials to be used, including brand names. The contract should state whether the finish work, such as painting, cleanup, and debris removal, is included.

Firm price. Without a firm price or, at minimum, a "not to exceed" figure, cost overruns are likely.

Payment schedule. Make sure that the contract provides that payment will only be issued in installments for quality work done and that the final payment will be withheld until all tasks are completed to your satisfaction. For larger jobs, the first payment is made when work commences, and additional payments are made as specific benchmarks are reached. Subsequent payments should be tied to results, for instance, "1/3 down at project start, 1/3 once plumbing is completed and remaining 1/3 at project completion."

Delay penalties. To protect yourself from unnecessary delays, include wording that provides for a penalty payment for contractor delays not due to the homeowner's fault.

The contract could say, for instance, "ABC Plumbing agrees to pay owner liquidated damages of $100 for each day work extends beyond agreed-upon completion date, provided the delay is not caused by the homeowner."

Right to terminate. Make sure that you have the right to terminate the contract for failure to comply with it. Contractor insurance.

The contractor must provide workers' compensation and employers' liability insurance required by state laws, and comprehensive liability insurance sufficient to protect both the homeowner and the contractor. The contract should spell out the type and amount of insurance the contractor has.Change order clause The contract should explain how change orders are handled. Specifically, any changes to the contract should be agreed upon in writing by both parties, with the increased costs clearly detailed.

Permits. A contract should state that the contractors will abide by local building and zoning codes and will obtain any required permits.

Final inspection / lien removal. Make certain a final inspection is built into the contract during which you may ensure the work has been completed satisfactorily. At this time, your contractor should also give you written evidence (receipts) that all subcontractors have been paid. The final payment should not be paid until these items have been satisfied.







How to Seek Redress

Keep a job journal of notes and photographs along the way so you will have evidence of any violations of the contract.

If you are ripped off by a business, the victim of shoddy workmanship, or left with half the job completed, here are some simple steps to obtaining justice and possible restitution:

Contact the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Division of Consumer Services, (800) 435-7352).

File a complaint with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.

File a Consumer Complaint Form with the Office of the Attorney General

Seek recovery from the Construction Industry Recovery Fund , (850) 921-6593. Under Florida law, if you have suffered damages caused by the financial mismanagement of a licensed contractor. Remember this fund is a last resort and before you can receive any money from the fund, you must have obtained a final judgment from a Florida court or a restitution order from the CILB or an award in arbitration. You need to show that you have tried to recover funds from the defendant and failed to collect before you can receive any money from the Recovery Fund. At present you will be redirected to the Home page of the Fund because we understand that the fund has none (funds, that is).

Consider filing a law suit if all attempts to reach a successful outcome fail, weighing the cost of litigation against the recovery potential (many unscrupulous contractors hide or do not have funds to pay a judgment),

If the claim is $5,000 or less, you need to file with the Small Claims Court. Simply go to the website www.mypalmbeachclerk.com and click to find the Self Service Form Preparation Program or visit the courthouse in person at: 205 N. Dixie Hwy., Room 2.2200, P.O. 3406, West Palm Beach, FL 33402, Telephone (561) 355-2500, Fax Number: (561) 355-6211

Note: Filing fees and a fee for the service of process will apply and range according to the dollar amount you are suing for. These fees are posted on the website. If the claim is $15,000 or more, the Circuit Civil Court will handle these matters. This complaint must be filed at the courthouse in person, and cannot be done online. The fee is approximately $400.

Note: Remember to have on hand the legal name and address of the defendant and all the necessary evidence you need to prove your claim.

File criminal charges. A last attempt at getting the law on your side when dealing with a fraudulent contractor may be to file criminal charges against the contractor. If you feel you are the victim of theft by deception, you can file a report with your local police department.

Important Note: The above resources are theoretically available but we have had reports of less than satisfactory results from these programs, in part due to the reluctance of some of these agencies to follow up aggressively.

The Grapevine, through its Penalty Box, will attempt to alert you to some of the more unscrupulous contractors.









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