Natural Disasters: Cleanup and Repairs
It's the definition of "adding insult to injury" when dishonest contractors or outright criminals try to cheat tornado, storm or flood victims. These unscrupulous people sometimes travel to storm-ravaged or flooded areas in search of quick cash. They know there's a high demand for repairs and clean-up, there may be easy money available through insurance or government disaster payments, and people tend to let their guard down when they're desperate to recover from a disaster as fast as possible.
Fraudulent contractors may drive through damaged areas. They may give you a hard sell and offer low prices or quick work, and they almost always insist that you pay in advance — but then they fail to do the work, or do minimal work and disappear. Remember, legitimate contractors very rarely solicit door-to-door, so be skeptical about solicitors who show up at your doorstep.
Be sure to check out a contractor, and never to pay large sums in advance to a contractor you don't know. The best advice: deal with an established and reputable local contractor.
Follow these tips to protect yourself if you hire a contractor:
- Check out the contractor before you sign a contract or pay any money. Ask if the contractor is registered with the Iowa Workforce Development's Division of Labor Services. You can check a contractor's registration online through the Division of Labor Services website, or call 1-800-562-4692 or 515-242-5871). Check local references. Ask the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division if it has complaints (515-281-5926 or 1-888-777-4590).
- Get it in writing! Get several written estimates for the job you want done. Before any work begins, agree on a written contract detailing work to be done, responsibility for permits, costs, and any other promises. Request a copy of the contractor's liability insurance certificate. Put start and completion dates in writing and consequences if the contractor fails to follow them (example: the contract could be nullified if the contractor doesn't start on time.)
- Avoid paying large sums in advance to a contractor. If you have to make a partial advance payment for materials, make your check out to the supplier and the contractor. Insist on a "mechanic's lien waiver" in case the contractor fails to pay others for materials or labor.
- State law prohibits price gouging when a county has been declared a disaster area.
- In most cases, Iowa's Door-to-Door Sales law gives you three business days to cancel a contract signed at your home.
888-777-4590 (outside of the Des Moines metro area)
Office of the Attorney General of Iowa
Consumer Protection Division
Hoover State Office Building
1305 E. Walnut Street
Des Moines, Iowa 50319-0106