Storm recovery: Use caution when hiring business services

Download the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce Consumer Protection Resource Guide for helpful tips and resources to protect yourself in the wake of natural disasters.

In the aftermath of this past weekend’s storms, the Better Business Bureau urges the public to exercise caution when hiring a contractor to repair damages. Natural disasters can bring out the best in people; unfortunately, it also brings out con artists looking to capitalize off other’s grief.

“Property owners will want to make repairs to their home or business as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, unscrupulous contractors or scam artists may take advantage of the post-disaster chaos to scam unsuspecting property owners out of money, or provide shoddy materials or sub-standard work,” said Kelvin Collins, President/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor. “Make wise decisions and don’t let someone separate you from your hard-earned money.”

Some of the most common “after-disaster” scams involve your auto, home and yard repairs or clean-up. The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to homeowners who suffer auto and property damage in the wake of a natural disaster:

  • Check with your insurance company about policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Save all receipts, including those for food, temporary lodging, or other expenses that may be covered under your policy.
  • 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 pro-active in selecting a business and not reactive to sales solicitations. Make temporary repairs if necessary.
  • For major permanent repairs, take time to shop around for contractors, get competitive bids, check out references, make sure the contractor is properly licensed and check out their business review with the Better Business Bureau at
  • Be wary of door-to-door workers who claim to have left-over materials from a job “down the street” or who do not have a permanent place of business. If sales people go door-to-door,check to see if your community requires them to have solicitation permits.
  • Be leery if a worker shows up on your doorstep to announce that your home is unsafe. If you are concerned about possible structural damage in your home, have an engineer, architect or building official inspect it.
  • Require a written contract agreement with 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. Any promises made orally should be written into the contract, including warranties on materials or labor. Be sure their name, address, license number, if applicable, and phone number along with a start and end date for the work are included in 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 at time of signature.
  • Once you have found a contractor, request proof of a current insurance certificate covering workman’s compensation, property damage and personal liability.
  • Insist that the contractors pull all necessary permits. Unscrupulous contractors will ask the homeowner to pull the permits because the person acquiring the permit is responsible for ensuring that the work meets local and state codes.
  • Never pay in full for all repairs in advance, and do not pay cash! While many businesses may ask for a deposit, BBB suggests that no more one-third of the job be paid up front. Be sure the contract specifies the schedule for releasing payments to the contractor.
  • Be wary if a contractor asks you to sign an estimate. Many unscrupulous contractors have you sign what you think is an estimate but in reality, is a binding contract.
  • When seeking the services of a cleaning and restoration firm, remember that flood-soaked carpets can be saved but must be professionally sanitized at the cleaning firm’s plant. Any furniture that has been completely submerged in floodwater will need to be re-upholstered or refinished.
  • Thoroughly clean out mud and residual material from heating and cooling units and let the units dry out before determining whether the equipment is functional or needs repairs.

Disaster victims should never feel forced to make a hasty decision or to choose an unknown business. Start with trust! For trustworthy information, lists of BBB Accredited Businesses by industry and BBB Business Reviews on local businesses, visit

Tips and information for debris removal

Debris is hazardous. It often has sharp or rough edges; it may cause falls; it may contain hazardous material such as asbestos, lead or fiberglass; and it may have been contaminated with chemicals or germs by the flood or storm.

When cleaning up debris, one of the first steps is to assess the types of waste you are dealing with, and what the disposal procedures should be. They usually fall into four main categories and can be disposed of in the following ways:

  • Branches, trees and vegetative wastes can be separated from the other debris and later can be sent to a community burn pile. These wastes can also be sent to a permitted disposal site.
  • Construction debris – the structural materials from houses and buildings, such as concrete, boards, shingles, windows, siding, pipes, etc. – can be taken to the closest construction and demolition (C&D) landfill or a permitted municipal solid waste landfill. After a disaster, many municipalities may establish pick up schedules.
  • Other household wastes, such as trash and furniture, should be sent to a permitted municipal landfill.
  • Hazardous wastes – If you believe the waste contains regulated hazardous materials, more care and caution is needed. These wastes should be containerized, labeled, and ultimately sent to a facility that is permitted to store, treat or dispose of hazardous wastes. In these instances, it is important to contact the landfill to discuss proper disposal procedures.

Items Requiring Special Disposal

  • Pool chemicals
  • Tires
  • Bicycles
  • PVC pipe
  • Explosives (ammunition, re-loading equipment, black powder, military ordinance, fireworks)
  • Fuel containers, metal or plastic
  • Pressurized gas cylinders/tanks (propane tanks, acetylene tanks, refrigerant containers)
  • Containers of petroleum based liquids, solvents, chemicals, etc.
  • Large household appliances (refrigerators, freezers, stoves, washers, dryers, etc.)
  • Off-road, gas-powered equipment (lawn mowers, tractors, edgers, leaf blowers and other lawn equipment, chainsaws, 4-wheelers, etc.
  • Lawn and garden supplies (fertilizers, pesticides, etc.)
  • Radioactive waste
  • Industrial/commercial hazardous waste
  • Medical waste
  • Automobiles
  • Electrical transformers

Any appliances that could potentially contain Freon or other chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) cannot be disposed of until they have been certified as being free of Freon or CFCs.

Contact the BBB at (800) 768-4222.