Pensacola area contractors warn of scams, see high demand

Madison Arnold, Pensacola News Journal
Published 6:00 a.m. CT Sept. 25, 2020 | Updated 3:52 p.m. CT Sept. 25, 2020

More than a week after Hurricane Sally made landfall, Shirley Hopkins has already had to re-tack the blue tarp to the roof of her East Yonge Street home so Thursday morning’s rain wouldn’t seep in like it did last week.

“Every so often you have to go back and add some more of those roofing nails because the wind gets under the tarp and it blows the tarp up and with all the rain coming in, you absolutely have to have it down all the time because it’s going to cause the leaks that are in your house to become worse,” Hopkins said. “We’re just hoping that it’s going to hold out for a few days.”

Hopkins lost about two-thirds of her roof, which caused rain water to drip into her home, through the ceiling and onto her carpet. Now she’s worried about mold setting in and she still can’t connect with any roofers to inspect her home.

“Every time we see a sign (for a roofer), we write it down and we call. And they say ‘OK, we’re going to get back with you,'” Hopkins said. “We’ve had some trouble getting people really to come out or return calls.”

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Roofers and contractors around the Pensacola area are being inundated with calls from residents who have wind, water and tree damage to their homes and property following the storm. That may leave residents like Hopkins who can’t get connected with roofers or contractors vulnerable to scams, shoddy work or unlicensed companies.

“I know that time is critical and I think people have that sense of urgency and they want to get back to normal. They want their house back to normal, but that effort to be quick will sometimes cost you in the long run with longer problems because it wasn’t done properly or you get ripped off and bad things happen.” said David Peaden, executive director of Home Builders Association of West Florida.

Right now, local builders are in “triage mode,” Peaden said.

“The demand is certainly high. From what I’m hearing from our membership, is that they’re getting people dried (out) and making sure their house is situated that they can be livable and then a future time to come back and do repairs on it,” Peaden said. “It’s kind of triage right now and the lists seem to be getting longer and longer and it’s just going to take some time and patience to get everybody the help they need.”

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Peaden said residents can go to his organization’s website, westfloridabuilders.com, which lists licensed contractors in all different categories. Homeowners can also search the contractor on the Better Business Bureau’s website, bbb.org. 

Most contractors are also required to be registered with Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. To check if they are registered, homeowners can call 850-487-1395 or go to myfloridalicense.com. 

It’s not uncommon that after a storm, many out-of-state contractors, who aren’t licensed in Florida, flood the area looking for work. It’s also a time when scammers can ask for money upfront for repair work and then never return to complete it.

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Peaden said the Pensacola area in particular is prone to this because it’s drivable from numerous other states. 

“Frankly, I hate the term unlicensed contractor because if someone robs a bank, it doesn’t make them an unlicensed banker,” Peaden said. “They are phony contractors. They’re not unlicensed. They’re just flat-out phony.”

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Alex Lute, a Perdido Key resident, lost about 50% of her roof and had significant water damage to her home and garage and lost fencing. She works for a vacation rental company and luckily her bosses knew a contractor who could start repairs Friday.

Finding a roofer, however, may be a different story and she said roofers have been stopping by dropping off flyers.

“We don’t really know what direction to take with roofers. We have had some people come by the house, but of course you have heard (of) those people that are scamming and all that so that obviously is concerning,” Lute said.

Steven Shelley, partner at East Hill Building and Design, said it’s also important to make sure the contractors are getting permits from the city or county.

“If people are doing work on your house without pulling a permit, there’s  a key sign right there. Why aren’t they? Because it’s illegal,” Shelley said. “Nobody should be doing work without pulling a permit.”

A few tips for residents to make sure they don’t fall victim to an unlicensed contractors or a scam are to check for a permanent business address and a good reputation, insist on a complete and clearly-written contract, ask for references and do not pay cash up front, Peaden said.

“It’s easy to believe in somebody immediately and say ‘Oh, they’re here to help.’ And then they want money up front or, frankly, they say ‘I’m going to be back. I just need a down payment.’ And then you never see them again,” Peaden said. “It’s going to take time, that’s the main thing.”

Madison Arnold can be reached at [email protected] and 850-435-8522.

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