California has had a wet winter, easing years of drought and refilling reservoirs. However, some communities have been unable to cope. A recent heavy rainstorm caused water to rush through spillways and overflow Coyote Creek, flooding neighborhoods of San Jose. According to NPR, at least 14,000 residents faced mandatory evacuation orders, and 22,000 more people were encouraged to leave their homes.
The rainwater has now receded, and residents are slowly being allowed to re-enter their homes and face the water damage caused by the flood. As residents begin to assess the damage, BBB offers the following eight tips to help with flood recovery efforts:
- Find a business you can trust. In 2016, BBB received hundreds of complaints about remodel and repair contractors nationwide. The top reason for complaints? Issues with contracts, followed closely by problems with repairs. BBB also received over 1,000 complaints about carpet and rug cleaning companies in 2016, and the majority concerned shoddy work. Start your search for a trustworthy business at org. BBB Business Profiles include company information, customer reviews and complaint history. Or, visit the BBB Accredited Business Directory for a list of accredited contractors in your area. It’s also a good idea to ask for recommendations from family and friends.
- Get at least three estimates. Make sure to get three written estimates before signing any contracts. Make sure the estimates are for identical plans and scope of work. It’s not always best to accept the lowest bid, and be wary if one estimate is significantly lower than the others.
- Get a written contract and don’t pay in advance. Make sure the contract specifies the price, the work to be done and who will do it, a breakdown of material and labor costs, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, a time frame and a copy of their current certificate of insurance. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number and phone number is included in contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety. Don’t sign a blank contract, and make sure to receive a copy of the signed contract at the time of signature. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor. Don’t feel pressured to pay with cash or pay in advance.
- Resist high-pressure sales and be careful of door-to-door contractors. Some storm chasers use tactics such as the “good deal” you’ll only get if you hire the contractor on the spot. Be proactive in selecting a contractor and not reactive to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches. Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty repair decision. If someone does show up at your door, ask for identification. Many municipalities require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Check their vehicle for a business name, phone number, and license plates from your state.
- Make sure they’re licensed and insured. In California, any contractor working on a project that is valued at $500 or more for labor and materials must hold a license from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). CSLB licenses contractors in 43 different classifications, so verify that the contractor holds a license for the work you are having done. This is especially important if the company claims they are able to remove mold and mildew. You can check the status of a license on CSLB’s website. The CSLB also recommends that “when the contractor comes to your house… ask to see his/her pocket license, along with a picture I.D. Make sure the person you’re dealing with is the same person on the license”. It’s also important to verify that they’re insured – ask to see a copy of their Certificate of Insurance, or ask for the name of the insurance carrier and agency to verify independently. Carpet cleaning businesses should also be fully insured. Ask if the business carries personal liability and property damage insurance and make sure every employee working in your home is bonded and insured.
- Know how to deal with your own insurance. Flood insurance is not necessarily part of your home insurance, so call your insurance company to check if you’re covered. If you do have flood insurance, call your insurance agent immediately to file a claim. Ask for specific procedures or paperwork needed. If possible, take photos of the damage. Contact your car insurance company immediately if your car was flooded or may be water damaged. Flood damage is generally covered by comprehensive insurance, so even if you don’t have collision coverage, you may be covered for repairs or replacement.
- Be careful turning on your HVAC system. If your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) was flooded, you’ll need to have the system checked and cleaned by an expert before you can use it. BBB received around 5,000 complaints about heating & air companies in 2016, so make sure to follow these tips when hiring an HVAC service.
- Know how to deal with mold. Hire only local contractors qualified in mold remediation and property restoration – ensure that they’re specifically licensed for it. Make sure the business has extensive experience in cleaning up mold. Ask for references and contact them for more information. Also, ask family and friends if they have worked with a mold remediation expert in the past and would recommend them. Do what you can to mitigate damage: get fans and dehumidifiers going and discard or clean/dry all wet items within 48 hours to prevent the growth of mold.