To begin the construction process, your proposed project will need to be accurately defined in detail by a design professional. For complex soil conditions, foundation/site work, or structural/mechanical/electrical designs, detailed engineering may also be necessary to support the proposed design. It is your choice in determining who you hire to prepare your plans however, in some cases, practitioners must be certified or registered with the city.
Beware of Unlicensed or Fraudulent Contractors
As a result of increased demand for construction services, many unlicensed contractors seek out work. Homeowners should check with the Contractor’s State Licensing Board (CSLB) website (CSLB.CA.gov) to make sure that the contractor you hire is licensed, insured, and bonded, and that they have the appropriate specialty license, if required. Contracting without a license is a crime, and enhanced penalties are provided for contracting without a license during a state of emergency. Reports of unlicensed contractors can also be made on the CSLB website.
Additionally, some contractors may take on more work than they are able to perform, or may try to extract a greater deposit than the $1,000 deposit they are authorized by law to require before work commences. Reports of any problems with licensed contractors should also be reported to CSLB.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) Tips
One of the biggest questions on the minds of those affected by the Woolsey Fire might be how to rebuild. Although there has been a tremendous outpouring of support and generosity from the public, unethical businesses may also emerge to try to take advantage of those recovering.
It’s important for those affected by the fires to do their research when hiring a business. In 2016, consumers nationwide filed more than 6,000 combined complaints against both remodel and repair contractors and general contractors with BBB. Complaints frequently involved workers doing a shoddy job and consumers having trouble getting their problems resolved.
The following BBB tips will help fire victims rebuild and recover:
Watch out for storm chasers and home improvement scams
According to the BBB Risk Index, home improvement scams are the most risky scam to consumers. In 2016, 53% of scam victims reported losing money, and the median loss was $1,425. Unfortunately, consumers in fire-stricken zones may see a surge in “storm chasers” looking to make money off of their misfortune. Consider it a red flag if:
- A worker shows up on your doorstep unannounced without identification
- Someone offers a “too good to be true” deal or uses high-pressure sales tactics
- A worker claims they just finished a job down the street and have left-over materials
- The contractor doesn’t have a permanent place of business
- The worker claims to be FEMA-certified
- Anyone asks for personal information, like bank account information or Social Security numbers.
Visit BBB.org/homescam to learn more.
Check with your insurance
As soon as you can, call your insurance provider and ask about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Keep pictures of the damage, and make sure to save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
Take your time
Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Do not be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be proactive in selecting a business and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs, if necessary. Do not rush into decisions and do not automatically hire the first contractor who comes along.
How to find a business
Visit BBB.org to find a trustworthy contractor near you. A contractor’s BBB Business Profile includes company information, a BBB rating, a complaint history, and reviews from past customers. Look for a contractor that specializes in the work you need to be done – whether it be smoke damage, rebuilding, or debris removal. Take time to shop around and get three estimates based on the same specifications and materials. It’s also important to ask for, and check, references.
Make sure they’re licensed
According to the CSLB, “it is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area.” You can easily verify licenses at CSLB.CA.gov. To become licensed, “a contractor must pass two licensing exams, verify at least four years of journey-level experience, carry a license bond, and pass a criminal background check” (CSLB). CSLB licenses contractors in 43 different classifications, so verify that the contractor holds a license for the work you are having done. Ask for proof of insurance as well.
Get it in writing
Make sure you get a written contract from anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. The more details, the better! 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 along with a start and end date for the work are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract should be given to you when you sign. Monitor the progress of the project and keep a paper trail of all documents.
Don’t pay in full before work starts
Never pay full price in advance and don’t be pressured to pay cash. Establish a payment schedule. Do not make a final payment until you are satisfied with the completed work. CSLB advises that you pay no more than ten percent down or $1,000 – whichever is less. Don’t let the payments get ahead of the work.
What to do if you have a problem
If you’re having issues with your contractor and, despite your efforts, they can’t be fixed, you have resources. File a complaint with your BBB at bbb.org/complain. It’s also wise to file a complaint with CSLB. To report home improvement scams, or any other type of scam, visit BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker.
Other Helpful Resources
- List of professional contacts related to post-fire rebuilding and construction
- List of registered practitioners who can perform the Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (OWTS) inspections needed for placement of a temporary trailer or mobilehome, or for a like-for-like rebuild in Malibu
- Check out common Construction Scams. Visit cslb.ca.gov to search for a contractor's license number.
- City-Permitted Hauler list for construction and demolition projects