Tornado Victims' Rebuild Leaves Them Feeling Abandoned



Nearly a year after their home was destroyed in the massive tornado that struck Moore, Okla., last spring, a family says that they've now fallen victim to a contractor who's left their house stuck in the early stages of rebuilding, with no end to the project in sight. And they suspect that they're not the only ones left in limbo by the builder.

oklahome tornado home left unbuilt
KOMO/AOL On
As seen in the above video, Lesly Flood and her mother, Becky, tell Oklahoma TV station KOCO that they're in the process of hiring a lawyer as work on the house has come to a standstill, after being promised that the job would be done by Thanksgiving. "He hasn't paid electricity, he hasn't paid plumbing, he hasn't paid anybody," Lesly Flood says. That might explain the graffiti (pictured at right) apparently left by construction workers at the building site.

Adding to the family's concerns, they say, is the discovery of a lien against their house, and that there might be at least two other families in the same fix. (See more on their story -- including the contractor's response -- in the video above.)

While at this point, the blame for the Flood family's predicament isn't clear, it's often the case that those hit hardest by natural disaster are victimized even further by those offering to help. Following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, East Coast residents were warned by officials to be on the alert for scams. They were particularly told to avoid contractors offering on-the-spot estimates, and requiring cash only or upfront payments, whom the Better Business Bureau calls "storm chasers." But a year after the hurricane the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs reportedly had received hundreds of complaints of unscrupulous contractors, many involving those who took down payments in the thousands of dollars and then failed to do the work.

The key for homeowners is to do research. Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List, told AOL Real Estate in 2012 that a survey of Angie's List members then found that a third of homeowners admitted that they don't verify contractors' license status before hiring them. One of the risks of not checking: Unlicensed contractors can disappear with consumers funds without fear of being fined or having a license revoked by regulators.

When possible, consumers should look for referrals from those they know and trust. And along with looking at reviews online at resources like Angie's List and the Franklin Report, it's also important tp check a contractor's rating at the Better Business Bureau and local office of Consumer Affairs. And of course to check references.

Among other recommendations from the BBB:

• Get at least three bids in writing and compare the bids based on the same warranty, specifications, labor and time.
• Check to see if the company you plan to hire is properly licensed.
• Be sure to verify the company's liability insurance to protect you against any damage. You can also check them out with your state's department of insurance.
• Never allow work to begin without a signed, written contract that includes start and completion dates, exact costs, specific work to be done, and warranty information. Read the fine print carefully.
• Deposit required and payment -- Never pay a deposit of more than 25 to 33 percent of the total job cost. Final payment should only be due when the job is completed. Pay by check and credit card, and never by cash.
• Obtain warranty information in writing on all products and installation and read the fine print carefully.
• Be sure all workers are employed by the contractor are bonded to protect you against theft and damage.
• Check out anyone you allow into your home to see if they have a criminal record.

More about home improvement:
Chimney Sweep Scams: How Not to Get Burned
Don't Move -- Improve: How to Rethink Space in Your Home
Home Improvements That Get Your House Sold

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