Pricier than necessary hurricane repairs in St. Johns County could become a concern, official says

PETER.WILLOTT@STAUGUSTINE.COM A home damaged by Hurricane Matthew on Vilano Beach on Monday, October 10, 2016

As people work to return to their homes impacted by Hurricane Matthew, some might end up being charged more than they should for repair work or running into other problems.

 

With pressures surrounding rebuilding and being displaced after a storm, it becomes common to hear stories of homeowners who picked a pricier contractor or rushed into an agreement without considering things carefully or looking at other options — which could lead to financial or other woes later.

That’s something Bill Lazar, director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership, wants people to avoid.

“People are desperate to just get back into their homes and get back to normal,” Lazar said.

The issue of costly repairs and possible overcharging has already been raised by some local residents on social media.

But Lazar advises that homeowners need to be patient and get multiple estimates on repairs.

“I think there’s more concern that if we don’t get everybody to realize, stick with licensed contractors, verify what they’re doing, make people give you a written estimate, we could see a lot more problems,” Lazar said.

Many insurance companies such as State Farm are warning Florida residents about the importance of properly researching companies before beginning repairs.

“We encourage them to do their homework before they sign anything,” said Michal Brower, a State Farm spokeswoman.

That homework includes checking for complaints against a business, and bringing one’s insurance company into the repair plans if it will be part of a claim, she said. Often, insurance companies will have recommended repair businesses.

Also, homeowners should be careful about contractors offering an assignment of benefits process, according to Brower, who also urged people to “keep their rights.”

“An AOB transfers the payment and many rights of your claim to the vendor or contractor for the services provided or to be provided,” according to a release from State Farm. “This language is often difficult to identify in the documents. …Vendors taking AOBs may be water mitigation companies, roofers or other contractors. Be diligent before signing anything with a vendor/contractor that solicits you directly and advises you to file a homeowner’s claim. Preserve all building materials removed by any contractor or vendor until you speak with [the insurance agency].”

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials are used to dealing with the stresses and tragedies that people experience after a hurricane, including those who use disasters for personal gain.

“The issue of fraud, unfortunately, occurs after many natural disasters … As far as people being surprised by the price, that is something that they need to negotiate with and know about from the contractor that they hired,” said Greg Hughes, FEMA spokesman.

A costly repair isn’t necessarily fraud, but Hughes said FEMA does hear about issues with overcharging.

He’s also heard of people referring to a “FEMA rate” for repair work, but that rate does not exist, he said.

When looking for a repair company, people should do their research about businesses, including asking for references, he said.

“We caution people to be alert, have their guard up, and if they feel that they’ve been victimized, report it to law enforcement,” Hughes said.

OVERCHARGED FOR REPAIRS?

Do you believe you have been charged too much for repairs related to Hurricane Matthew? If so, and if you would like to share your story, please contact St. Augustine Record reporter Sheldon Gardner at 819-3583 or sheldon.gardner@staugustine.com.

 

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