When Southwest Florida took a hit from Hurricane Irma, people pulled together to help. Unfortunately, the aftermath of a disaster of Irma's scale can also attract people who see it as an opportunity to prey upon hurricane victims, who are in a vulnerable state.
A prime example is the unlicensed contractor who goes door to door in hurricane-ravaged areas, soliciting jobs and making promises without having the proper credentials, and often demanding a large cash payment up front.
Unlicensed contracting is illegal, but, it's also easy for homeowners to avoid, according to the Lee Building Industry Association, a nonprofit professional association that represents Lee, Hendry and Glades counties. Lee BIA maintains a list of reliable licensed contractors in the three counties at bia.net. The organization also offers guidance and recommendations to homeowners whose residences suffered damage from the hurricane, including:
• Obtain at least three estimates from licensed and bonded contractors.
• Get the estimate in writing.
• Ask for and check references.
• Ask for proof of insurance.
• Get a written contract.
• Make sure all work that requires city or county inspection is officially approved in writing before a final payment is made.
“Be especially careful when confronting door-to-door solicitors who require large sums of money up front,” says Lee BIA Executive Vice President Phillip Ford. “Licensed contractors will show proof of insurance and licensure, as well as never ask for payment right away. Homeowners are best served verifying licenses with the state of Florida, since this is an incredibly vulnerable time for their community on multiple levels.”
Unlicensed contractor activity can be reported to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation by calling 866-532-1440. Price gouging can be reported by calling 866-9NO-SCAM.