Beware of fly-by-night contractors

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By Carol A. Clark

Just as the dregs of society did following the Cerro Grande Fire, fly-by-night contractors are descending upon Los Alamos to cash in on all the hail damage repair work created by the massive July 6 hailstorm.

“Anyone who wants to do business in this town must have a business license issued by Los Alamos County,” said Los Alamos County’s Building Official Chris Williams. “While it is legal for a person to go door-to-door to offer their services, they must have a business license and when they come to us to get it, we’re going to make sure they have a valid contractor’s license.”

It’s perfectly appropriate for homeowners to ask to see the business licenses of people knocking on their doors to offer services, he said.

Along with Los Alamos County business licenses, workers also must have valid contractor’s licenses, which they obtain from the state.

The danger to homeowners who hire an unlicensed or uninsured contractor is that the homeowner assumes responsibility for that person, Williams said. If that person is injured on the job, the homeowner can be sued and ordered to pay that person’s medical expenses, workman’s compensation and even lost wages for however long the person is unable to return to work.

Making certain a worker is properly licensed and has worker’s compensation coverage and liability insurance provides the homeowner with a level of protection against these types of claims, he said.

Williams further advises anyone contracting for repair work to request  a copy of the worker’s business license, contractor’s license and proof of insurance.

The proof of insurance should be faxed or mailed directly from the worker’s insurance carrier to insure it’s not a fabrication.

“It’s also a good idea to call the Community Development Department and give us the name of the company and the contractor’s license number because we have an online service available to us to verify license numbers.

The Community Development Department enforces fire codes on new construction as well as renovation and repair projects.

As a result of the Cerro Grande Fire, building codes are more stringent than many other communities, Williams said. His division has extracted from the applicable codes those sections that relate to roofing or reproofing a home and which skylights must be tempered or laminated glass, he said. As a result of the fire, skylights over a home cannot be made of plastic.

“Our division is more than happy to assist any resident with helping their insurance adjuster understand the Los Alamos County ordinances,” he said. “Homeowners do need to come to us for a permit to replace skylights or to repair or replace a roof. We are processing permits overnight as a result of all the hail damage, rather than the average five to 10 business days.”

With the monsoon season in play, Williams said his division is expediting the permits to help homeowners avoid further damage to their property.

“When we get the permit application, we expect it will have the contractor’s name and license number,” he said. “We also recommend that the contractor pull the permit because our conversations about your job will be with the applicant and the homeowner typically won’t know about the technical elements involved such as ‘the ice and water shield’.”

Following the big hailstorm, William’s division has taken the time to provide information to insurance adjusters about roof and skylight requirements for dwellings within Los Alamos County.

“We’ve had a number of questions but not that many permit applications yet,” he said. “We’re seeing a trickle and we anticipate it will ramp up shortly and we are prepared to get these permits turned around quickly.”

For additional information, access the Community Development Department at www.losalamosnm.us/cdd/Pages/default.aspx or call 662-8120.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her newsblog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.