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March 1, 2001

For earthquake repairs, be wary of unregistered contractors

TUMWATER - Consumers needing earthquake repairs are urged to avoid unregistered or unlicensed contractors. Officials from the Department of Labor & Industries, the agency that registers contractors, warn that doing business with an unregistered contractor is not worth the risk.

"After a natural disaster, unscrupulous individuals offer to provide repair work," said Peter Schmidt, manager of contractor registration. "In these kinds of situations, it's particularly important not to rush into a decision without doing some homework."

Here are some steps consumers can follow before hiring a contractor:

  • Determine if a contractor, electrician or plumber is registered or licensed. All contractors doing business in the state are required to register. While not a guarantee of performance, registration does mean the contractor has minimal liability insurance and a surety bond that can protect the consumer if there is a problem. For information, call L&I's toll-free number, 1-800-647-0982, or visit the web site, www.lni.wa.gov/contractors/contractor.asp. The caller also can find out how long the contractor has been in business and whether there have been any complaints against the bond.
  • Ask contractors if they have done this type of repair work before, if they will be purchasing necessary permits, and if the work will be inspected.
  • Be wary of contractors soliciting business door-to-door.
  • Be cautious in dealing with a contractor who asks for a large down payment - say 50 percent or more. Pay the contractor at the end of a job, or pay only for the portion of the job that has been completed.
  • Try to get three separate bids on the job.
  • Ask for references.
  • Obtain a written contract.
  • Avoid making final payment until you have received a lien release.

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