Repairing Your Small Business After Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma set a lot of new records. It was huge, it was dangerous. It was projected to make landfall in our community. South Florida was rightfully worried.

As a community, we “dodged a bullet,” and we are thankful that the destruction was not as bad as predicted. However, many local homes and businesses did suffer damage. Business owners especially feel the immediate pressure to fix the damage to their business and become operable again. Small businesses often have different financial needs than their big business counterparts. Non-working location equals no customers, which equals no income.

However, it is of vital importance that the small business owner, and homeowner, chose their contractors wisely. Don’t be rushed into hiring someone just because they are available or are pressuring you. Do your research. Is this contractor licensed? Are they operating under someone else’s license? How long have they been in business? Can they give you real examples or references of projects they have completed in the past?

Check that they are insured for liability and workers compensation if so, they need to produce proof that you can verify. If they are asking you to assign your insurance benefits to them, you need to take pause and follow up with your own insurance company first.

Broward County recently put out the following alert and information on hiring a contractor:

Verify the status of a contractor’s license:

• For county-licensed Contractors and Tree-Trimmers, search online or call 954-765-4400, Option 2.
• For state-licensed contractor, check with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR)
• Check if the contractor is licensed to perform the type of work you need and if the license has been revoked or suspended.
• Check if any complaints have been filed against the contractor.
• Watch out for anyone who approaches, unsolicited, about tree trimming and removal.
• Obtain multiple written estimates from contractors and tree trimmers and ask whether debris removal is included in the estimate.
• Report unlicensed activity in Broward County by calling 954-765-4400, Option 2. Report unlicensed activity to the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation.

If the contractor’s license is current and active, you should:

• Check for proof of insurance and verify with the insurer that the Contractor’s insurance is up-to-date.
• Never pay the full amount of a repair up front and hesitate before providing significant deposits.
• Read the entire contract, including the fine print, before signing to ensure it includes the required buyer’s right to cancel language. Understand cancellation rights and penalties you may experience for canceling.
• Ask the contractor for references.
• Check out work performed by the contractor.
• Verify how long the contractor has been in business. You can check this information with Florida Division of Corporations.
• Check the contractor’s reputation with local suppliers.
• Check with Broward County Building Code services or the city building department where the work will be done for the contractor’s ability to pull permits.
• Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until you are satisfied with the work performed.

As a business law attorney, one of the issues I see frequently are clients who paid a contractor a large deposit or paid in full upfront. Then the contractor does subpar work, asks for additional money during the job or abandons the property. The business owner must then 1) use legal means to attempt to obtain their money back and 2) hire another contractor to get the project completed. This is a headache that can be avoided.

We all want our businesses repaired and up and running. However, a little homework now can save you time and money later.