The Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) created these checklists for Texans who are affected by natural disasters, including flooding, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes. Survivors of disasters are forced to repair and rebuild their homes in the days, weeks, months, and, unfortunately, years following the disaster.
Special thanks to the Texas Young Lawyers Association. This article is reproduced from TYLA's Hiring a Contractor After a Natural Disaster handout and has been lightly edited for style and to update links and phone numbers.
Things You Should Do
- Take your time hiring a contractor, but do not wait to address water damage (such as removing carpet and sheetrock so that mold does not accumulate—be sure to photograph everything for insurance and FEMA claims first).
- Ask friends and family for referrals.
- Check the Better Business Bureau and other resources in your area to verify that they are licensed and don’t have poor reviews.
- Ask for references—both written letters and phone numbers of satisfied customers that you can call and speak with yourself to verify they are trustworthy.
- Get more than one bid on the work you need to do.
- Always get any bid in writing.
- Ask about the warranties offered and get any warranties in writing.
- Hire a local contractor or professional.
- Hire a bonded, insured contractor licensed/registered to work in your city.
- Ask for copies of the contractor’s general liability insurance declarations page, and keep a copy for your records.
- Ask for a copy of the contractor’s bond if your city requires one.
- Check with the appropriate department in your city to determine whether the contractor is registered to perform work in your city (if required).
- Contact your city and determine whether a permit is required for the work being done at your home.
- Make sure your contractor obtains a local building permit, if required, for the specific work being done.
- Ask for a copy of the permit if one is required to perform the work in your city.
- Get bids, contracts, and repair plans in writing and keep copies for at least two years after the repairs are concluded.
- Ask the contractor to provide a lien waiver for subcontractors before starting the job if they plan to use subcontractors.
- With a lien waiver, the contractor will remain responsible for paying their subcontractor, and the subcontractor will not be able to sustain a lien on your home to be paid by a contractor who fails to pay them.
- Establish a timeline for the repairs in writing.
Things You Should NOT Do
- Don’t let a contractor force you to hire them until you have thoroughly investigated them, but remember that in the wake of a disaster, their services will be in high demand.
- Don’t hire a contractor that solicits your business.
- Unsolicited phone calls, door knocks, or phone calls are usually from unsavory maintenance specialists and contractors.
- Don’t automatically choose the lowest bidder.
- Don’t pay a premium. Don’t let someone offering to “help” take advantage and charge you more than what is fair.
- Don’t pay in cash.
- Scammers or Chuck-In-A-Truck fly-by-night contractors often ask for cash because they know it cannot be traced once you give it to them.
- Don’t pay in full upfront.
- Typically, pay no more than 1/3rd up front.
- Once you are satisfied with the contractor and feel you can trust them, you can pay an additional 1/3rd after they have completed 1/3rd of the job.
- Never pay the final 1/3rd (or pay in full) until the job is done to your satisfaction.
- Don’t sign your insurance check over to a contractor.
- Don’t take the contractor’s word that it is licensed/registered to work in your city or bonded. Require them to show you their paperwork and verify their insurance yourself.
- Don’t verbally agree to any increase in the cost of the work; if there is a reason to agree, document the change in the total amount in writing.
If You Have Already Been Taken Advantage Of
- Contact an attorney right away.
- If you do not know an attorney, contact the State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral and Information Services or one of your local lawyer referral services.
- Contact your local legal aid office if you cannot afford an attorney.
- Contact and file a report with your local law enforcement agency. Contact your local district attorney's office if the agency cannot help you.
- Leave honest reviews of issues you have had with contractors on reputable crowd-sourced review websites such as Angie’s List and the Good Contractor’s List.
- Give any more money to the contractor.
- Delay—the longer it takes to find help, the more likely you will not find the contractor who took advantage of you.
- Better Business Bureau
- Angie’s List
- Good Contractor’s List
- National Disaster Legal Aid
- State Bar of Texas Lawyer Referral and Information Service, 800-252-9690
- Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, Inc., 866-303-8303
- Dallas Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, 214-220-7444
- Houston Lawyer Referral Service, 713-237-9429
- Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, 855-548-8457
- Lone Star Legal Aid, 800-733-8394
- Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, 833-329-8752
- Texas Legal Services Center, 800-622-2520
- Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division, 800-621-0508
This article explains how to avoid fraud when hiring a contractor, and what to do before and after the hiring process.
Lone Star Legal Aid's guide can help you avoid contractor fraud after a disaster.
Identify and avoid home repair scams.