As our community recovers from the unprecedented wildfires disaster, it is our top priority to help those affected with the rebuilding process. The County and City have similar, but separate processes for rebuilding. It will be important to follow the guidelines set by whichever jurisdiction you live in.
Find out if you live in the City of Santa Rosa or Sonoma County
Resources and Tips for Selecting and Working with Contractors and Other Vendors During Your Rebuild
Contractors State License Board (CSLB) Disaster Help
Unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors often prey on victims of natural disasters. It is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area. Consumers can protect themselves by using CSLB's resources to check a contractor's license status and history. Below you will find links to a number of resources to help with this.
The City of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County are not approving or recommending specific contractors for fire-related recovery efforts. Licensed contractors are registered with the State Licensing Board, and members of the public can find details about these contractors at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/ or by calling 800-321-2752. Contractors who are not yet listed on the Licensing Board’s website can contact the Board to be added.
Unlicensed or Fraudulent Contractors
As a result of increased demand for constructions services, many unlicensed contractors seek out work. Please check with the Contractor’s State Licensing Board website to make sure that the contractor you hire is licensed, insured and bonded at http://www.cslb.ca.gov/ and that they have the appropriate specialty license if required. Contracting without a license is a crime and enhanced penalties are provided for contracting without a license during a state of emergency. Reports of unlicensed contractors can also be made on the website.
Additionally, some contractors may take on more work that they are able to perform or try to exact a greater deposit than the $1,000 deposit they are authorized by law to require before work commences. Reports of any problems with licensed contractors should also be reported to the State Contractors Board.
The North Bay Disaster Fraud Task Force has received indications that contractor and/or construction fraud could be occurring in the North Bay Area, as part of the recovery efforts following the wildfire disaster. This Task Force has assembled a list of guidelines to help protect consumers.
Better Business Bureau (BBB) Tips
As evacuees return to their homes and begin to assess the fire damage, one of the biggest questions on their minds might be how to rebuild. Although there is usually an outpouring of support and generosity from the public after a tragedy, unethical businesses may also emerge to try to take advantage of those recovering.
It’s important for those affected by the fires to do their research when hiring a business. In 2016, consumers nationwide filed more than 6,000 combined complaints against both remodel as well as repair contractors and general contractors with BBB. Complaints frequently involved workers doing a shoddy job and consumers having trouble getting their problems resolved.
The following BBB tips will help fire victims rebuild and recover:
- Watch out for storm chasers and home improvement scams. According to the BBB Risk Index, home improvement scams are the most risky scam to consumers. In 2016, 53% of scam victims reported losing money, and the median loss was $1,425. Unfortunately, consumers in fire-stricken zones may see a surge in “storm chasers” looking to make money off of their misfortune. Consider it a red flag if: a worker shows up on your doorstep unannounced without identification; someone offers a “too good to be true” deal or uses high-pressure sales tactics; a worker claims they just finished a job down the street and have left-over materials; the contractor doesn’t have a permanent place of business; the worker claims to be FEMA-certified; or if anyone asks for personal information like bank account or Social Security numbers. Visit bbb.org/homescam to learn more.
- Check with your insurance. As soon as you can, call your insurance provider and ask about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Take pictures of the damage, and make sure to save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
- Take your time. Although you may be anxious to get things back to normal, avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision with a long-term impact. Be proactive in selecting a business and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary. Don't rush into decisions and don't automatically hire the first contractor who comes along.
- How to find a business. Visit bbb.org to find a trustworthy contractor near you. A contractor’s BBB Business Profile includes company information, a BBB rating, a complaint history, and reviews from past customers. Look for a contractor that specializes in the work you need to be done – whether it be smoke damage, rebuilding, or debris removal. Take time to shop around and get three estimates based on the same specifications and materials. It’s also important to ask for, and check, references.
- Make sure they’re licensed. According to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), “it is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area”. You can easily verify licenses at www.cslb.ca.gov. To become licensed, “a contractor must pass two licensing exams, verify at least four years of journey-level experience, carry a license bond, and pass a criminal background check” (CSLB). CSLB licenses contractors in 43 different classifications, so verify that the contractor holds a license for the work you are having done. Ask for proof of insurance as well.
- Get it in writing. Make sure you get a written contract from anyone you hire. It should specify the work to be done, the materials to be used, and the price breakdown for both labor and materials. The more details, the better! Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number and phone number along with a start and end date for the work are included in the contract. Read and understand the contract in its entirety and don’t sign a blank contract. A copy of the signed contract should be given to you when you sign. Monitor the progress of the project and keep a paper trail of all documents.
- Don’t pay in full before work starts. Never pay full price in advance and don’t be pressured to pay cash. Establish a payment schedule. Do not make a final payment until you are satisfied with the completed work. CSLB advises that you pay no more than ten percent down or $1,000 – whichever is less. Don’t let the payments get ahead of the work.
- What to do if you have a problem. If you’re having issues with your contractor and, despite your efforts, they can’t be fixed, you have resources. File a complaint with your BBB at bbb.org/complain. It’s also wise to file a complaint with CSLB. To report home improvement scams, or any other type of scam, visit BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.
Please visit go.bbb.org/sf-norcalwildfires for more Northern California wildfire resources, including tips for donating, rebuilding, and avoiding scams.