Texans have been hit hard by the recent winter storm, facing home damage and price gouging. In these unprecedented times, your Better Business Bureau is here to help. Here’s what consumers should know as they start their road to recovery.
Licensing and contractors
A press release from the Governor’s office on Feb. 17 announced that the Texas Board of Plumbing Examiners will be giving provisional licenses to out-of-state plumbers to increase the response to the high volume of homeowners with burst pipes and flooding. The Governor is also issuing a waiver that will allow plumbers currently holding expired licenses to assist Texans in need by waiving certain fees and examination requirements for renewal.
After a disaster, it is important to be diligent and watch for scammers looking to take advantage of areas recently impacted by severe weather, also known as storm chasers. Going door to door, they offer their services but disappear after accepting payment. Avoid hiring any contractor who uses high-pressure sales tactics such as “today only” offers or demands full payment up front. When considering or searching for a reliable contractor, start your search at BBB.org.
According to Texas Business & Commission Code § 58.001 et seq., Unless a disaster remediation contractor has an established office in the county or adjacent county where a property is located for at least one year prior to the contract, a disaster remediation contractor cannot require full or partial payment before beginning work and can only require partial payment reasonably proportionate to work performed.
And remember, according to the Texas Department of Insurance (TDI), it is against the law for a contractor to offer to waive an insurance deductible and work the deductible amount into a bid.
Working with insurance
When you begin repairs on your home, consult your insurance company first to see what’s covered and make any adjustments necessary. Ask about your policy coverage and specific filing requirements. Be sure to check any contractors suggested by your insurance company at BBB.org before hiring them.
Although it may seem easier, do not sign your insurance checks over to contractors. Get an invoice and pay them directly, preferably with a credit card, which can offer more fraud protection than other forms of payment, and be sure to get written receipts for any payments made. Do not sign any contracts or documents that give the contractor any rights to your insurance claims. If you have any questions, contact your insurance agent directly.
Price gouging is common during disasters when supplies are scarce, and businesses or individuals look to take advantage of desperate consumers. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices-Consumer Protection Act defines it as “demanding an exorbitant amount or excessive price in connection with the sale or lease of fuel, food, medicine, lodging, building materials, construction tools or another necessity.” After a disaster has been declared, price gouging is illegal, and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) can prosecute any business found doing so.
It is important to remember that high prices do not always equate to price gouging, as businesses are typically allowed to set prices for their products. However, if a company excessively raises prices during a disaster, illegal price gouging is likely taking place.
If you see a business or individual gouging prices, gather documentation such as receipts, transaction dates and photos of the products with their advertised prices. You can use these documents to file a report with the OAG at TexasAttorneyGeneral.gov. You can also report price gouging to BBB via Scam Tracker or the business’s profile on BBB.org. BBB Serving the Heart of Texas is proactively working with the OAG to share these complaints.
If you are a tenant and have damage to your apartment or house, contact your landlord or property manager immediately. Even if you are not a homeowner, reach out to your insurance agent to see what is covered under your renter’s insurance and review your rental agreement. You can visit the OAG online to find an overview of renter’s rights or go to TexasBar.com to read the full Tenants’ Rights Handbook.
For more consumer tips on disaster recovery, visit us at BBB.org. Stay safe, Texas!
Emily Gaines is the public relations coordinator for the Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas.