Flood Victims Told: ‘Do Your Homework’

Minnesotans cleaning out flooded homes have another assignment before hiring someone to fix things: do your homework.

That is state officials’ advice in hiring contractors to work on homes.

“At minimum, they should be licensed with us” said Charlie Durenberger of the state Department of Labor and Industry.

But he also recommended people check into contractors on the department’s Web site (http://tinyurl.com/licensesearch) or call (800-342-5354) to confirm not only that the contractor has a license but if the firm has any disciplinary history.

Calling his agency also will help track down any court actions against a contractor.

A contracting license is needed to work on home repair and that license number is needed to check on a contractor.

Durenberger said he would suggest talking to relatives and neighbors about contractors, checking with the Better Business Bureau (although a good rating does not guarantee a good contractor) and paying to join Angie’s List, an on-line site where citizens review everything from contractors to mechanics.

“They shouldn’t have to feel pressured or hurried into this,” said James Honerman of the Department of Labor and Industry. “They should take the time to do their homework.”

Durenberger said that disaster victims must be careful what they sign.

“Don’t sign anything that the contractor puts in front of you until you decide that is the contractor you want to hire,” he said.

Durenberger said he has seen incidents where a contractor said he needed a signature “just to show my boss that I was here,” but most documents are binding contracts.

Despite his warnings, Durenberger said, most contractors are legitimate and trustworthy.

Unscrupulous contractors do not generally flood an area after a flood, like they may after hail storms, Durenberger said. Repairing water damage, and financing the work, is much more complicated than fixing a home’s shingles after hail damage.

Director Kris Eide of Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management said just 111 Duluth homes have flood insurance because the city built on a bill is not a likely place for such a disaster.

The Insurance Federation of Minnesota reported just a dozen flood policies were sold in Cannon Falls, which experienced flooding a few days before northeastern Minnesota did this week.

Many homeowners may be out of luck getting insurance to pay, although experts say they should check with their insurance companies. Some damage may be caused by sewer backup, which could be covered by homeowner insurance.

Fewer than 1 percent of Minnesotans buy flood insurance, insurance federation President Bob Johnson said. “Since the standard homeowners’ insurance policy does not cover flood damage, it is important for all Minnesotans to carefully consider all their options to protect their home, which in many cases should include flood insurance.”

Johnson said many car insurance policies cover flood damage.

While Durenberger said it is unusual for contractors to come from out of state after floods, other than just across the border, Johnson said that some from out of state do not know Minnesota laws. One law limits contractors paying a homeowner an incentive to get the job.

Also, Johnson warned, a homeowner should be leery of a contractor demanding upfront money.

Honerman said that while building work must be done by a licensed contractor, outside work such as on concrete may not need a license. However, he said, there may be local requirements.

A licensed contractor pays into a fund that is used pay a homeowner up to $75,000 if the contractor is found to be use fraudulent, deceptive or dishonest practices.