Don't get Scammed After a Disaster.

If you need help getting answers or navigating the bureaucracy after a disaster, please don’t hesitate to contact your district's office for help.

It is definitely an unfortunate fact that dishonest individuals will try and make a profit on another’s misfortune. Don’t let these individuals take advantage of you during this vulnerable time. If your home or property has been damaged by fire, flood, earthquakes or other disasters, here are some resources to help you from being victimized a second time.

The California Department of Consumer Affairs and Contractors State License Board offer the following advice for disaster victims.

Before you hire a contractor or sign any documents for repairs:

  • Don’t rush into repairs, no matter how badly they are needed.
  • Get at least three bids. Don’t hire the first contractor who comes along.
  • Watch out for door-to-door offers of repair services and flyers or business cards that are left on your doorstep.
  • Ask friends, family and associates for recommendations about contractors they have hired.
  • Never hand over a cash deposit.
  • Even for the smallest job, get proof that the person you are dealing with has a contractor’s license for the type of work that needs to be done.
  • Get a written contract that details every aspect of the work to be done.

Other Considerations

With “Service and Repair Contracts,” a consumer’s 3-day right to cancel expires when the work begins. Check the paperwork before you sign, to see if it is a regular contract or the “Service and Repair” kind.

Renters should check with their landlords and their rental agreements about damages and repairs. Major repairs are almost always the responsibility of the landlord. Renter’s insurance policies may cover personal property damage.

If you’re a homeowner, contact your insurance company to find out what’s covered and how to proceed.

Hire a Licensed Contractor

Deal only with licensed contractors – Ask to see the contractor’s “Pocket License,” along with other identification. If the person claims to represent a contractor, but can’t show you a “Salespersons Registration Card,” call the contractor to find out if the person is authorized to act on their behalf.

Contractors working on a job — from debris removal to rebuilding — totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by the CSLB. To become licensed, a contractor must pass a licensing examination, verify at least four years of journey-level experience, and carry a license bond.

Some out-of-state contractors and unlicensed California contractors want to help with rebuilding in disaster areas. However, it is illegal and punishable as a felony to perform contracting work in a declared disaster area without a California contractor’s license. Punishment may include a fine of up to $10,000 or up to 16 months in state prison.

Get the contractor’s license number and check it out on the Internet at: www.cslb.ca.gov or call the CSLB’s toll-free automated telephone number at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752) to verify that the license is valid.

Get it in Writing

Don’t sign the contract until you fully understand the terms.

Make sure everything you have asked for is in writing and clearly described. A verbal promise may not give you the results you wished for.

Avoid Payment Pitfalls

  • By law, a down payment on a home improvement contract cannot exceed 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less.
  • Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Keep receipts and records of payments.
  • Don't pay cash.
  • Make sure you have the names of subcontractors, material suppliers and confirmation that they have been paid.
  • Don’t make the final payment until you are satisfied with the job and the building department has signed off on it.