LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Tips on surviving your experiences with contractors

October 20, 2022
By Guest Columnist

To the Editor:

Hurricanes are never welcome, a reality to contend with, nonetheless. A price we pay to live in paradise. Last Thursday I made the journey from central Florida to check on extended family and see if I could help. 

While I’m not native to the island, I have lived in the Orlando area most of my life, and countless memorable weekends were spent as one of the Bowen “collectibles.” Pastor Beatty at the Baptist church married Melinda and me in 2003. My roots and love for the Boca Grande community run deep, with the devastation I saw weighing heavy on my heart. Memories and lessons learned since Hurricane Charley surrounded me. 

I’m a Florida Licensed General CGC1520496, Building Contractor CBC1253395, and Florida Licensed Home Inspector HI5833 as well as having provided expert witness testimony. Our company holds Florida Mold Remediation and Lead Remediation Licenses. We’re based in Winter Park, FL, where we’ve been in business for over 40 years, specializing in remodeling, renovations, and by default restorations. To be clear, I’m not soliciting work. There are many fine builders, both on and off island. I’m simply a concerned friend who has seen all sides of the remodeling and restoration industry, and sharing my expertise feels like the right thing to do. 

First and most important, patience with those trying to help is key. There is never a good time for a hurricane, and September 28th was no exception. The day before Ian struck, the construction industry all over Florida was facing a shortage of skilled workforce. Materials were in even shorter supply, with huge lead times and an unprecedented backlog of work. Ian simply exacerbated the situation both on the island and throughout the state. Starting with this understanding is important, because it helps to inform the path forward.

By now you’ve undoubtably seen the catastrophe teams rolling in. Many companies without Florida license plates, pretty trucks and flashy stickers. Many of these folks are well trained and skilled at assessing, documenting, drying out and even repairing damage with the proper licensing. But there are also those who are wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking to profit from this tragedy. Evaluating and differentiating is key. I’m not an attorney and this is not legal advice; always consult with your attorney regarding contracts and legal issues as well as your insurance agent with policy questions.

The first questions you should ask of anyone offering services other than general cleanup are: 

1. Are you a Florida Licensed Contractor? You can verify their license at myfloridalicense.com and click the “verify license” button. There you can input the business name or the individual qualifier’s name. By Florida law, anyone “contracting” work in the construction industry must have their license number on all contracts and advertising. R eally anything with their company name should also have their license number.

2. Do you have liability and workman’s compensation insurance? I recommend that a contractor should have a minimum of $1 million per occurrence liability policy limit and a $500K per occurrence workman’s comp limit.  Anyone doing work on your property should list you as additionally insured on both policies. At the contractor’s request, their carrier will issue a certificate, either directly to you or to the contractor to provide to you, that will have your name and address listed as “additionally insured,” and it will state their policy limits. If someone cannot or will not provide this information, avoid doing business with them.  

Another tactic to be very wary of is the demand for you to sign over your claim rights. This is a huge red flag, and I would run, not walk from anyone asking for this. If they truly have your best interest at heart, they will work with you and your insurance carrier to resolve your claim. When in doubt, ask your insurance agent or attorney. And always get everything in writing with a full and complete description of the scope of work, cost and payment schedule. The more descriptive, the better.

When it comes to dry out, there are standards that govern the principles and practices used to complete mitigation, drying and remediation of water and mold.  They are IICRCS500 & IICRCS520 (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification). Assessors and remediators use these as their bible to guide the decision-making process with the initial removal and subsequent treatment of the damage. Wind-driven moisture can find unique pathways through structures during storm events. Conversely, just because you lost one shingle or tile or panel of a metal roof and have a small water stain on your ceiling, that does not mean you have to gut the entire house or even the whole room.  

Again, a reputable contractor will take the time to explain their findings, put them in writing and answer any questions. If it sounds farfetched, you have the right to question what you are being told. Allow no one to strong-arm you into any work. When in doubt seek a second opinion.  

Be suspicious of anyone who claims they can complete your reconstruction in what seems to be an unrealistically short period of time. Typically, after the removal and remediation, permits must be pulled to complete the reconstruction work. Lee and Charlotte County will need some time to process the many applications for repairs and will likely create special rules to govern the reconstruction work. Your contractor must follow these rules, and it is in your best interest to demand that they pull permits and have their work inspected when required.  

This is where patience will be required to ensure that your property is restored to its previous glory. When it comes time to rebuild, vet the company you choose to complete the work. If they are a company that specializes in storm reconstruction work and travel to perform their services, ask for references from past clients with similar homes and call them. If your favorite local builder is up to their eyeballs and unable to commit to a start time, don’t take it personally! Many are in the same situation, struggling to get their own properties put back together, managing their ongoing jobs, and a phone that – when it has service – doesn’t stop ringing! This will unfortunately be a marathon, not a sprint, and in due time the Island will return to its pre-Ian glory. 

I noticed as I was leaving the Island that the banyan trees were already sprouting new leaves, truly a sign of the restoration to come!

Sincerely,

Anthony B. Rizzo

Skolfield Homes, LLC

Winter Park, FL