AUSTIN, Texas - While firefighters continue to fight and contain wildfires across Central Texas, the Better Business Bureau is warning residents and business owners to be wary of untrustworthy contractors.
Crews are still working to contain multiple large wildfires with nearly 1,500 acres burned by the Big Sky fire in Gillespie County, 1,200 acres by the Smoke Rider fire in Blanco County, and 60 acres by the Hermosa fire in Hays County, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service Incident Viewer.
In light of these disasters, the Better Business Bureau is offering tips and advice on how to avoid being taken advantage of by "unethical contractors":
- Find out if you’re covered. Basic homeowners' insurance covers most fire damage from wildfires, including dwelling coverage, personal property and additional living expenses to varying amounts, depending on the plan. Call your insurance company immediately to report the damage and discuss how to proceed with repairs and ask if your policy includes smoke damage.
- Make sure you understand how your insurance company will reimburse your repair costs. Take photos or videos of damage inside and outside your house, as well as in your immediate area.
- Do your research. After an insurance adjuster has surveyed your wildfire damage, you will need to find a reputable company to make repairs. The BBB's website can be a resource for finding a trustworthy business, such as roofing contractors or construction services.
- Get several bids and stagger payments. Don’t pay large fees upfront or pay in cash. BBB recommends consumers solicit bids from at least three different companies. All bids should be in writing and should provide a full description of the services to be provided. Rather than paying a large percentage for the project upfront and on its completion, BBB recommends staggering payments throughout the length of the project during specific milestones. This will allow the homeowner to verify the work being done is to their satisfaction and prevent unethical contractors from disappearing before the project is complete.
- Ask for a timeline. Find out how long the repair will take. If the damage was heavy in your area, it may take longer to schedule the repairs. Be sure to check with government organizations to see if you can qualify for assistance, especially if damage to your residence was so extensive it is not safe to live without repairs.
- Get everything in writing. Be sure all work is explained in the contract, including cleanup, waste disposal, and completion dates. Any verbal agreements made should be included in the contract.
- Protect yourself. Make sure to pay attention to local broadcasts regarding the air quality in your area in the aftermath of wildfire disasters. You can also visit AirNow.gov for localized reports on air quality. Certain medical conditions may put people more at risk of injuring themselves from poor air quality, such as those with heart or lung disease. Paper "dust" masks or surgical masks will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in wildfire smoke – use particulate masks instead, such as N-95 or P-100 respirators.
The BBB says that although not all contractors responding to a disaster are scammers, they may lack the proper licensing for your area, offer quick fixes, or make big promises they can’t deliver. The BBB also advises avoid hiring any contractor who uses high-pressure sales tactics, such as "today only" offers, or demands full payment before beginning work.
For more information about planning, responding, and recovering from a natural disaster, click here.