Attorney general offers tips to avoid flood fraud

As homeowners begin the daunting task of repairing damage caused by the recent record flood waters, their initial impulse may be to dial the first contractor in the phonebook, then hand over whatever amount of money that contractor requests. But a quick fix may end up costing homeowners much more than the job is worth - especially if the repairs aren't done properly and they have to pay even more to hire another contractor.

Attorney General Rob McKenna urged homeowners to give serious thought to the contractors they hire to help with home repairs.

"Except for electricians, who must be licensed, and plumbers, who require certification, there isn't a competency test to become a contractor in Washington," McKenna said. "And while the vast majority of contractors are honest, there are a few unscrupulous ones who will try to take advantage of your desperation."

Below are some tips to help people find a competent, reliable contractor and avoid potential rip-offs.

Selecting a Contractor

* Seek referrals. Start with friends or neighbors. Home improvement stores and trade associations, including the Master Builders Association, can also be good resources. All contractors who do construction work in Washington must be registered with the state Department of Labor and Industries, post a bond and carry general liability insurance coverage. Check the L&I Web site at or call (800) 647-0982.

* Interview at least three qualified contractors and ask for references.

* Solicit written bids that detail the scope of the work, the types of materials that will be used and the total cost of the project.

Signing a Contract

* Once you've agreed on a bid, get it in writing. The contract should cover the work to be performed, total price including taxes and fees, materials to be used, start and completion dates, warranties, payment schedules, sign-off procedures and cleanup. It should also explain how changes to the work will be handled. If your residential project costs at least $1,000, the contractor must give you a written disclosure statement that explains your rights and responsibilities.

* If a contractor fails to pay a subcontractor, worker or supplier, you could be sued and have a lien placed on your property to satisfy the unpaid bill. Protect yourself by asking the project contractor for a lien release for all subcontractors and suppliers.

* Don't make the final payment until you are fully satisfied with the finished product and know that the subcontractor or suppliers have been paid.

Red Flags

Be wary of contractors who:

* Solicit door to door.

* Provide credentials or references that can't be verified.

* Pressure you for an immediate decision.

* Accept only cash, require large deposits or require the entire cost up front. A deposit of 10-15 percent of the bid price is normally sufficient.

* Don't provide a written contract or complete bid.

* Ask you to get required building permits. In most instances, the contractor is required to take out the permits.

* Offer exceptionally long warranties.

* Offer an exceptionally low bid.

* Suggest you borrow money from a lender the contractor knows; this could be a scam to get you to sign a home equity loan.

Additional information about hiring a contractor is available from

* L&I at,

* The Attorney General's Office at

* The Federal Trade Commission at

Report an unregistered contractor to Labor and Industries by calling the agency's fraud hotline at (888) 811-5974 or file a complaint online at

Report fraud to the Attorney General's Office by filing a complaint online at or calling (800) 551-4636.

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