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October 19, 2007
Consumer Alert: Attorney General says check out contractors before you pay for storm repairs

SEATTLE –  Attorney General Rob McKenna today urged homeowners to check out contractors they hire to help repair their storm-damaged homes and remove fallen trees caused by yesterday’s 40-50 mph winds.

“A quick fix may end up costing you much more than the job is worth if the repairs aren’t done properly,” McKenna said.

All contractors who do construction work in Washington must be registered with the state, post a bond and carry general liability insurance coverage.

McKenna said storms often bring out cons who promise immediate or cheap home repair, clean-up or remodeling. Some of these "contractors" are from out-of-state and are not registered to do business in Washington. They demand money up front and never do the work, do a shoddy job or require additional money once the job starts.

Below are some tips to help people find a competent, reliable contractor and avoid potential rip-offs:

Selecting a contractor:
• Whenever possible, work with a local contractor you know and trust.
• Seek referrals. Start with friends or neighbors. Home improvement stores and trade associations including the Master Builders Association can also be good resources.
• Ask for references. If possible, visit other work sites when repairs are underway.
• Check with the Department of Labor and Industries. All contractors who do construction work in Washington must be registered with the state, post a bond and carry general liability insurance coverage. Check the L&I Web site at or call 1-800-647-0982.
• Find out whether any complaints have been filed against a contractor by calling the local office of the Better Business Bureau.
• If you need roof repairs, you may want to check out the recently released Fall/Winter issue of Puget Sound Consumers' Checkbook, available for a $30 subscription at or at local bookstores. Published by The Center for the Study of Services, an independent nonprofit organization, the report includes ratings of local roofers, plumbers and other service providers.

Seeking bids:
• Solicit written bids from at least three qualified contractors that detail the scope of the work, the types of materials that will be used, and the total cost of the project.
• Use the estimators as consultants, using advice from each to decide exactly what needs to be done. Then go back to each firm with the final description of what you want so each can bid on the same job.
Check insurance policies and warranties:
• Before you start work, check your insurance policies and warranties. You may be able to file a claim and get useful information from the claims adjuster. The warranty on your roof, for example, may require you to use a certain repair company.
• Ask the contractor for a written warranty that covers the cost of labor and materials if the repair doesn’t hold up.
Signing a contract and making payments:
• Once you’ve agreed on a bid, get it in writing. The contract should cover the work to be performed, total price including taxes and fees, materials to be used, start and completion dates, warranties, payment schedules, sign-off procedures, and cleanup. It should also explain how changes to the work will be handled. If your residential project costs at least $1,000, the contractor must give you a written disclosure statement that explains your rights and responsibilities.
• If a contractor fails to pay a subcontractor, worker or supplier, you could be sued and have a lien placed on your property to satisfy the unpaid bill. Protect yourself by asking the project contractor for a lien release for all subcontractors and suppliers.
• Arrange to pay for the work as late in the process as possible. Never pay any large sums of money in advance and don't make a final payment until the work is completed to your satisfaction and you know that subcontractor or suppliers have been paid.

Red flags:
Be wary of contractors who:
• Solicit door to door.
• Provide credentials or references that can’t be verified.
• Pressure you for an immediate decision.
• Accept only cash, require large deposits or require the entire cost up front. A deposit of 10-15 percent of the bid price is normally sufficient.
• Don’t provide a written contract or complete bid.
• Ask you to get required building permits. In most instances, the contractor is required to take out the permits.
• Offer exceptionally long warranties.
• Offer an exceptionally low bid.

You’re usually responsible for weather-related damages:
Homeowners are usually responsible for the bill if a tree crashes through their roof. Whether the tree belongs to you, a neighbor or local government, you’re still responsible for the damage -- unless the other person knew the tree was unhealthy or dead and didn't do anything about it. Insurance companies usually cover such occurrences.

Report an unregistered contractor to Labor and Industries by calling the agency’s fraud hotline at 1-888-811-5974 or file a complaint online at Report fraud to the Attorney General’s Office by filing a complaint online at or call 1-800-551-4636 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. weekdays.

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Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager, (206) 464-6432

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