By Phil Crone
Make no mistake, storm season in North Texas can be a scary experience, even for lifelong residents. Especially this time of year, we are no strangers to hearing the eerie wail of tornado sirens or posting photos of hail that confirm to the rest of the nation that everything is bigger in Texas.
For storm victims, the scariest thing next to the storm itself is cleaning up and getting their lives back on track. These fears are well founded. Smashed cars, personal belongings scattered about by Mother Nature, and leaky roofs from every subsequent rain create a feeling of vulnerability one can only imagine unless they’ve been through it themselves. Vulnerable people are the prey of the lowest of segments of our society and, in the contracting world, we call those storm chasers.
How can you spot a storm chaser? Look for contractors, often from out of state, soliciting with flyers in your mailbox or going door to door, and contractors who ask for a signed contract to assess the damage or speak with your insurance adjuster.
Sometimes the fine print in these contracts binds you to do business with them. Another huge red flag is a request for a large down payment or a bid in the entire amount of the insurance settlement. If they ask you for a large down payment, say in your best Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino voice, “Get off my lawn!”
The best advice is often the hardest to follow when you’re vulnerable, but it will likely keep you from being further victimized by these scavengers. Take your time and do your research. Be sure to help elderly neighbors, friends, or family with this if you can. A quick Google search can turn up anything you need to know about a prospective contractor and not finding anything also tells you all you need to know. Membership in a professional organization like the Dallas Builders Association or the National Roofing Contractors Association indicate they are a local contractor who is truly invested in their industry. You should also ask for (and receive) a list of client references. Reputable contractors are happy to provide them. Also, be sure to get at least three bids.
Once you have selected a contractor, help them help you. HOAs often have specific requirements on roofing materials and colors that are acceptable. Your contractor should know this, but it never hurts to ask and make sure. If your home is fairly new, your builder should be able to tell you exactly what cladding and roofing materials were originally used.
For those unfortunate enough to be part of a larger natural disaster, such as the Rowlett tornado in December 2015, Chapter 57 of the Texas Business and Commerce Code offers specific protections. The law applies to contractors who remove, clean, sanitize, demolish, reconstruct or improve property as a result of damage or destruction caused by a natural disaster. The disaster must be officially declared by the Governor.
Specifically, the law requires that a “disaster remediation” contract be in writing. A disaster remediation contractor is prohibited from requiring payment prior to beginning work or charging a partial payment in any amount disproportionate to the work that has been performed. The statute exempts contractors who have held a business address for at least one year in the county or adjacent county where the work occurs.
Most damage-inducing weather events, such as the recent hail storms, do not cause enough damage to warrant disaster declarations, but nevertheless bring about storm chasers. As you would expect, most of them purport to be in the roofing business. Currently, roofers are not licensed or certified, but some in the Texas Legislature are trying to change that. Given the fact that they often do business with people in such vulnerable positions resulting in a contract that may be negotiated under duress and not at arm’s length, these efforts are warranted. H.B. 3293 by State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R – Southlake) creates a voluntary certification program for roofers. They can receive a certificate from the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation by producing evidence of general liability insurance and legal right to conduct business in our state. The certificate would provide the consumer with evidence that they are doing business with a legitimate roofer.
I sincerely hope that you and your loved ones never have to use the advice in this article. However, destructive weather is a fact of life in our area and while we cannot prevent that, we can prevent what comes afterwards.