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The recent damage done by the tornado on Sunday night has brought out the best in people, as strangers and trustworthy businesses and contractors reach out to help others in need. Unfortunately, the aftermath of such a storm also brings out contractors who take advantage of those who have already been victimized.

Your Better Business Bureau is warning local residents affected by the recent storms to beware of storm chasers and out-of-town contractors soliciting business.

"It is not uncommon for out-of-town storm chasers to solicit business after storms like the ones we had the other day," said Phil Catlett, President of the Better Business Bureau serving Western Michigan. "Storm chasers may not have proper licensing for this area and may offer quick fixes or make big promises to which they won't deliver."

Your BBB offers the following tips for storm victims:

  • Know your rights and responsibilities provided by the Michigan Consumer Protection Act
  • Many municipalities (including Kentwood) require a solicitation permit if sales people go door-to-door. Verify that they need to have a permit by contacting your local city or township. BBB suggests consumers be pro-active in selecting a contractor and not re-active to sales calls on the phone or door-to-door pitches.
  • While most roofing contractors abide by the law, be careful allowing someone you do not know inspect your roof. An unethical contractor may actually create damage to get work.
  • Check online with www.michigan.gov/lara to verify that the company is registered to do business in your state.
  • Try to get at least 3-4 quotes from contractors, and insist that payments be made to the company, not an individual.
  • Do not pay for the job in advance. Be wary of a contractor who demands full payment upfront. Smaller contractors may need money for materials, however, you need contract protections and a strong trust for any up-front payments.
  • Resist high-pressure sales tactics such as the "good deal" you'll get only if you hire the contractor on the spot.
  • Get a written contract that specifies the price, the work to be done, the amount of liability insurance coverage maintained by the contractor, and a time frame. Require a copy of their current certificate of insurance.
  • Pay by credit card, if possible; you may have additional protection if there's a problem.
  • Check that the contractor's vehicle has signs or markings on it with the business name, phone number and license plates for your state.

BBB is also warning the area contractors to beware of storm chasers who are willing to pay local construction companies substantial amounts of money to use a local business's established name, reputation and phone so they can masquerade as a local business.

The BBB has seen this happen in other areas of the country. After doing repairs paid by insurance companies, the out-of-state contractors left the area. Many contractors who agreed to let these storm chasers use their name regret their decision once they were left holding the bag of unsatisfied customers due to bad workmanship and/or unfulfilled warranties.

Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown contractor. Start With Trust. For reliable information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews you can trust on local businesses, visit www.bbb.org.

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