December 29, 2012

Beware of tornado cleanup scammers--Story on Fox 10 TV

Beware of tornado cleanup scammers
Updated: Friday, 28 Dec 2012, 6:23 PM CST
Published : Friday, 28 Dec 2012, 10:50 AM CST

Steve Alexander
Photojournalist: La-Keya Stinchcomb
MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - With two tornadoes striking the Mobile area less than a week, many homes are in need of major repairs.

One attorney who works with contractors said the best advice he can offer is to listen and take notes.

Greg Vaughan said first make sure the contractor is licensed in the state of Alabama.

Vaughan said, "If they don't have the proper license, there's a strong likelihood that they won't have general liability insurance and workers compensation insurance to cover their workers if they're hurt on the job."

Then he said ask questions, look for documentation, and take down information.

Vaughan said, "Just take a spiral notebook and start your claim notebook, and record every time you talk with your insurance company. If they give you a claim number, write that down and you ought to have a claim. You ought to have a claim number in the beginning."

Every time an adjuster comes out, write down what insurance agents think is covered, and what they think is not covered.

And, if they tell you your damage isn't storm related, Vaughan said you don't have to accept that.

He said, "You can hire you own storm professionals, whether they're architects, or structural engineers, to come out to your own house and examine your house, and made a determination whether it's storm damage or not."

Want more advice? Here's a link.

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December 28, 2012

STORM RECOVERY CHECKLIST


www.HolstonVaughan.com

Storm Recovery Checklist

By: Greg Vaughan, Esq.

This list was prepared, from the homeowner’s perspective, to consider when recovering from a windstorm loss. Please consult a professional (i.e. builder, city building official, structural engineer, architect, and/or lawyer) if you have specific concerns related to your storm loss. The information contained herein is for informational purposes only as a service to the public, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal advice.

Temporary Repairs / Protection of Property:

• Before making any temporary repairs, photograph the condition of your home (inside and outside);
• Make temporary repairs to protect your home from further damage;
• Keep all related receipts;
• Purchase a spiral notebook and start a “claim notebook” to include all important dates, contact info, and action taken;

Report your claim to your Insurance Company ASAP:

• Call your insurance company and report your claim—get your claim # (be sure to write down the name of the insurance representative and the date you spoke with him/her in your “claim notebook” );
• Locate a copy of your insurance policy to keep handy during the adjustment of your claim—if you don’t have one ask your insurance company to e-mail or mail you a “certified copy” of your homeowner’s insurance policy;
• As soon as you hear from your adjuster, make arrangements to be present during his/her initial inspection (write down the date/time, length of inspection, and items reviewed anytime your adjuster visits your property in your “claim notebook”);

Inventory all missing / damaged property:

• Make a detailed list of all items of missing and damaged property (use a checklist like the one found at www.holstonvaughan.com);
• Gather any receipts (or photos) you may have to support the list;
• Never throw away any items of damaged property until you have discussed this with your adjuster (and documented in your “claim notebook” the date and conversation where the adjuster gave you approval to discard the damaged property);
• Make copies of any and all documents you provide to the adjuster to support your contents claim;

If your home is not habitable:

• Secure your home to prevent theft;
• Tell your adjuster that you are not staying in your home during the repair process and get his/her approval to reimburse you for additional living expenses (document your conversation in your “claim notebook”);
• Keep all receipts that document your living expenses while you are away;
• Visit your home often to ensure that it is secure;
• Contact the local police department and ask them to step up patrols in your area;

Your initial meetings with your insurance company’s adjuster:

• Inspect the home with your insurance adjuster (note date, name and physical mailing address of adjuster (and their employer if different from your insurance company), and summary of discussions, etc. in “claim notebook”;
• Before committing to a preliminary agreement as the “scope of the repair work” locate and interview several reputable contractors and other professionals if needed (i.e. “structural engineer”);
 Contact the local Home Builders Association of Mobile for information related to properly licensed and insured contractors in the local area (Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Mobile, 1613 University Blvd., Mobile, AL 36609, Ph. 251-661-6523, www.hbamm.com) ;
 You can also visit the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board for a roster of local builders, www.hblb.alabama.gov;
 If you need an engineer, go online at the Alabama State Board of Licensure to locate a roster of local engineers: www.bels.alabama.gov ;
 Conduct online research related to the contractors/engineers at consumer review sites;
 Ask friends and family for trusted references;
• Ask the prospective contractors for photos of past work and references you can call;
• Determine if your insurance adjuster and prospective contractors/engineers agree on the initial scope of the repair work (note all conversations in your “claim notebook”) ;
o If so, ask the insurance company to confirm this in writing;
• If a disagreement occurs regarding the scope of the repair work ask your insurance company for documentation from a properly licensed professional that supports their position (note your request for this information in your “claim notebook”);
• Try your best to resolve your dispute with your insurance company informally before seeking legal advice;

Hiring the right contractors / design professionals to repair your home:

• Locate and interview several reputable contractors and other professionals if needed (i.e. “structural engineer”);
 Contact the local Home Builders Association of Mobile for information related to properly licensed and insured contractors in the local area (Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Mobile, 1613 University Blvd., Mobile, AL 36609, Ph. 251-661-6523, www.hbamm.com) ;
 You can also visit the Alabama Home Builders Licensure Board for a roster of local builders, www.hblb.alabama.gov;
 If you need an engineer, go online at the Alabama State Board of Licensure to locate a roster of local engineers: www.bels.alabama.gov ;
 Conduct online research related to the contractors at consumer review sites;
 Ask friends and family for trusted references;
• Ask the prospective contractors for photos of past work and references you can call;
• When speaking with contractor over the phone (before the first “face to face” meeting) ask them if they are properly licensed in the city and State, have liability insurance, have workers’ compensation insurance, and whether they will provide you with copies of this information at your first “face to face” meeting. If they refuse do not hire the contractor;
• Design professionals like structural engineers will likely be insured under a policy titled “professional liability insurance” or “errors and omissions” insurance;
• Ask the contractor whether he/she will be using any “sub contractors” on the job, and if so, require that all subs provide you with proof of the proper licenses and all forms of insurance mentioned in the above paragraphs. Basically, make sure all sub’s have a license and form of insurance that you require of your general contractor;
• When you meet with your contractor(s) compile and store copies of all licensing and insurance information;
o After the first meeting but before you sign a contract with any contractor, call the City of Mobile Revenue Department at 251-208-7462 to confirm that the contractor(s) is properly licensed;
o After the first meeting but before you sign a contract with any contractor, call the State of Alabama Home Builder’s Licensure Board at 800-304-0853 to inquire whether the work you are having performed requires that the contractor have a state license (many times work that has a value in excess of $10,000 requires a state license).
o After the first meeting but before you sign a contract with any contractor, call the “producer” listed on the Contractor’s Certificate of Liability Insurance to confirm that the contractor(s) have current polices of general liability insurance and workers compensation insurance;
 If you hire the contractor, ask the producer to add your name as a “certificate holder” and send you a copy of the certificate documenting your request;
• You may also want to explore being named as an “additional insured” under your contractor’s policy but this may add to the cost of the project;
o After the first meeting but before you sign a contract with any contractor, call the City of Mobile Urban Development Department 251-208-7601 to determine what type of permit must be pulled for the work being done—you may have to meet certain requirements if you live in a Historic District;
 Make sure the prospective contractor is familiar with the permitting requirements for your home;

When you decide to hire contractor(s) negotiate a fair “written” contract between you and the contractor(s):

o Make sure the contract itemizes and accounts for the type of work the contractor will be performing on your home—this is known as the “scope of work” of the contract (for example: “contractor will remove and replace storm damaged roof, flashing, underlayment, and all other items damaged on roof with quality materials and the work will be done in compliance with the local building code”);
o Make sure the contract spells out how and when the contractor will be paid;
 Be cautious of requests by the contractor for “getting started” money “up front” before any work is done;
• Most contracts require that the contractor be paid as the contractor completes a certain percentage of the work listed in the scope;
• Make sure your insurance company will be issuing timely payments to you for the claim that is consistent with your obligations to pay your contractor pursuant to the terms of your construction contract;
o Are you expecting your contractor to pay for all materials—or are you responsible for the materials—either way, make sure it is spelled out in the contract;
o Is the contractor pulling the permit with the City of Mobile—if so, who is responsible for paying for it and make sure that obligation is spelled out in the contract;
o Make sure the contract entitles you to request a “punch list” to handle any remaining problems or items to be completed under the contract before the contractor is paid his/her final payment;
o Do you expect a warranty from your contractor—if so, make sure it’s spelled out in the contract;
o If you have questions regarding a basic construction contract terms consult a lawyer;

The Repair / Re-building process:

• Visit your home often during the repair process—enter the dates, progress of work, and any communications with your adjuster, contractor, etc in your “claim notebook”;
• Keep in constant contact with your adjuster about the progress of the work (enter the dates and substance of all such communications in your “claim notebook”) ;
• Be present during any inspections conducted by the city inspectors;
• If your contractor or engineer discovers additional damage related to the storm—contact the insurance adjuster and ask for guidance on how to proceed;
o Photograph the additional damage and give copies to the insurance adjuster;
o If the insurance company agrees to pay for the extra repairs document the approval in your “claim notebook” and ask them to confirm it in writing;
 Then, enter into a written addendum to your construction contract (known as a “change order”) with your contractor to identify the extra work and how much and when you will pay for it;
 If the insurance company does not initially agree to the extra work, try your best to resolve your dispute with your insurance company informally before seeking legal advice;
• Never sign a release (or any document that references “final payment”) in favor of your insurance company regarding any aspect of your claim until you consult with a lawyer;

What to do if you are low-income and need free legal advice:

• Contact the South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program, 56 St. Joseph Street, Suite 312, Mobile, AL 36602, www.savlp.org, Toll-Free: (855) 99-SAVLP;
• The South Alabama Volunteer Lawyers Program (SAVLP) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance in certain civil matters to low income residents of Mobile, Baldwin, Washington and Clarke counties

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June 19, 2012

Replacement Cost vs. Actual Cash Value

Now is a good time to take your homeowner's insurance policy to your local insurance agent to review the types of coverage that you have. Ask your insurance agent whether or not your policy recovers the cost of "replacing" your possessions or provides "actual cash value." Most people prefer "replacement cost" coverage because it pays more than "actual cash value." Simply put, "replacement cost" compensates you for the actual cost of replacing the damaged or stolen property. "Actual cash value" is determined by taking the replacement cost minus any depreciation. Basically, "actual cash value" is the value of the item if you sold it in the marketplace. I'll use a "stolen t.v." as a simple example of the difference between the two types of coverage: under "replacement cost" the insurance carrier will likely ask you to go price a replacement t.v. of like kind (and pay you that amount)--under "actual cash value" the insurance carrier will take the replacement cost (the price of a new t.v.) less depreciation (i.e. wear and tear on the t.v.).

Ultimately, If you have to pay an added premium to get replacement cost—ask your local agent if that option is available—and pay the extra money if you can afford it.

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June 14, 2012

Inventory list now -- not after the storm

Before we get too far into hurricane season, it is a good idea for you to make an inventory of your possessions. If you do not have the time, you can take a video camera and do "walk-through" of your home. Video all the rooms and the possessions you have within the rooms. If you have receipts for the high-priced items in your house (like a flat-screen TV, computer, washing machine / dryer, or other appliances), keep them in a safe place so that you can have them available if you need to present evidence of the value of those items at a later date.

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June 13, 2012

Homeowners insurance vs Flood insurance

A lot of folks do not realize that their homeowner’s policy will not cover a loss due to a flood event. As a homeowner in Mobile or Baldwin County, you need to consider whether or not you need a flood policy in addition to your standard homeowner’s policy. The cost of flood insurance is a lot more reasonable than you think—so if you live in an area that is prone to flooding talk with your local insurance agent about purchasing a flood policy. Some people are misinformed and believe that they must live in a designated flood zone in order to qualify to purchase flood insurance—that is simply not true. I personally do not live in a flood zone but I carry flood insurance for added protection—and it’s very affordable. Please know that there is a thirty (30) day waiting period to get flood insurance once you’ve placed your order, so if you’re going to make that decision, you need to make it soon considering that we are now within the Hurricane season.

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September 16, 2009

CHINESE DRYWALL IN BALDWIN COUNTY ALABAMA

We are now handling several homeowner claims in Baldwin County Alabama concerning defective Chinese Drywall. Recurring damage to Heating & Air Conditioning units is a good indicator that your home may have Chinese Drywall. The drywall "off gasses" sulfur dioxide and slowly deteriorates certain metals, including the copper found in your A/C system. Generally, the drywall was introduced into the market around 2004-2006. Therefore, if you have continuous A/C problems--and your home, condominium, or building was built on or after 2004, your sheetrock may be from China. If that's the case, give us a call and we'll review your options with you.

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September 16, 2009

KEY CONTRACT TERMS TO CONSIDER BEFORE DOING BUSINESS IN MOBILE ALABAMA

Before you lift a hammer on a project, make sure that you have a written contract (prepared by a lawyer) to protect you in the event you must institute legal proceedings to collect.

Important terms are as follows:

1. Venue for disputes--This sets the location for any dispute between the parties. If you are working on a project in Mobile, Alabama--then you should have a venue paragraph that sets Mobile County, Alabama as the venue for all disputes. If you are working with an out-of-state general contractor beware of attempts by the general contractor to set venue for some other state.

2. Governing Law--This sets forth the law that will govern the dispute between the parties. Again, if working in Alabama then Alabama law should be applied.

3. Attorneys' fees--If you have to institute a collection action, you should have a paragraph in your contract that entitles you to attorneys' fees incurred as a result of hiring a lawyer to help you collect.

4. Dispute Resolution--You can decide to have your disputes resolved in Court or before an Arbitrator. Good arguments for both forums exist, but overall I think the Courts are the best forum. You already pay taxes to fund a court system, why pay an arbitrator by the hour to resolve your dispute?

**If you'd like to have a written contract prepared by our firm please give us a call and we'd be happy to meet with you to discuss your needs.

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August 4, 2009

Legal Services to Construction Professionals

Our firm provides general legal advice concerning the following trades within the construction industry: HVAC, Security Alarms, Architects/Draftsman, Cabinets, Trim Carpentry, Framing, Concrete, Electric work, Pest Control, Flooring, Glass/Glazing, Sealants, Grading/Excavating, Insulation, Landscape, Masonry/Brick/Block, Metal Walls/Metal Roofing, Painting/Exterior Coatings, Plumbing, Roofing, Septic Systems, Sheet Metal, Sheet Rock, Suppliers, Swimming Pools, and Tile Work.

Whether you need advice when facing a lawsuit, dealing with an insurance company, collecting monies due from customers, or general corporate matters, we are eager to earn your business. We charge a reasonable hourly rate, and in some cases, handle collection matters on a contingent fee basis (percentage of the recovery).


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July 26, 2009

UNPAID BALANCE LIENS IN MOBILE ALABAMA

In Alabama, contractors have two different types of liens that may apply to their project. This blog entry concerns the "unpaid balance lien." This lien generally applies to contractors who DO NOT have a direct contract with the property owner.

Alabama Code § 35-11-210 provides for an unpaid balance lien as follows:
“Every mechanic, person, firm, or corporation who shall do or perform any work, or labor upon, or furnish any material, fixture, engine, boiler, waste disposal services and equipment, or machinery for any building or improvement on land, or for repairing, altering, or beautifying the same, under or by virtue of any contract with the owner or proprietor thereof, or his or her agent, architect, trustee, contractor, or subcontractor, upon complying with the provisions of this division, shall have a lien therefor on such building or improvements and on the land on which the same is situated, to the extent in ownership of all the right, title, and interest therein of the owner or proprietor, and to the extent in area of the entire lot or parcel of land in a city or town; or, if not in a city or town, of one acre in addition to the land upon which the building or improvement is situated; or, if employees of the contractor or persons furnishing material to him or her, the lien shall extend only to the amount of any unpaid balance due the contractor by the owner or proprietor, and the employees and materialmen shall also have a lien on the unpaid balance. But if the person, firm, or corporation, before furnishing any material, shall notify the owner or his or her agent in writing that certain specified material will be furnished by him or her to the contractor or subcontractor for use in the building or improvements on the land of the owner or proprietor at certain specified prices, unless the owner or proprietor or his or her agent objects thereto, the furnisher of the material shall have a lien for the full price thereof as specified in the notice to the owner or proprietor without regard to whether or not the amount of the claim for the material so furnished exceeds the unpaid balance due the contractor, unless on the notice herein provided for being given, the owner or proprietor or his or her agent shall notify the furnisher in writing before the material is used, that he or she will not be responsible for the price thereof.”

Simply put, if you don’t have a direct contract with the property owner or you did not provide prior notice (for materials only not labor) you have an unpaid balance lien.

Unpaid balance liens generally concern subcontractors and material suppliers.

An example of the limitations of an unpaid balance lien: The prime contract for the construction of the Acme MoonPie Plant in Mobile has a value of 1mil. You are the subcontractor responsible for landscaping. Your contract with the general contractor, Mr. Big, has a value of 50k. Upon completion of your work you submit your pay request for the full 50k. Upon receipt of your pay request Mr. Big has already been paid 975k from the owner. Only 25k remains to be paid to Mr. Big by the owner for retainage. If you are forced to lien to collect payment, the most you could ever recover from the property owner (if you submit your notice of intent to lien in time) is 25k. In other words, you would only be entitled to the unpaid balance due to the general contractor from the property owner.

Practice pointer: If you are one of the last subs on the job be aware that you may fall subject to an unpaid balance lien. At the first sign of payment problems, be prepared to serve a notice of intent to lien upon the property owner.

If you are considering your lien rights consult an attorney as soon as possible. Time limitations for filing liens can be as short as 30 days after leaving the job site.

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July 26, 2009

MAKING A PAYMENT BOND CLAIM

Before you start your next project be sure to maintain the following list of documents in the event you are forced to file a claim on a payment bond in Alabama:

Copy of your contract and all change orders;
Invoices and delivery receipts;
Pay applications;
A statement of account;
Copies of all correspondence between the parties; and
Copies of all notices served upon any party regarding a payment demand/claim.

The surety will likely ask for these documents in order to process your claim.

In Alabama, most projects funded by tax dollars (public projects) require the purchase of a payment bond by the general contractor. Private projects do not have such a requirement.

Seek legal advice asap in the event you have not been paid on a construction project and must file a bond claim. Time limitations vary and may require quick action on your part.


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July 9, 2009

CHINESE DRYWALL IN ALABAMA HOMES

Our firm is now handling a number of these claims on behalf of homeowners. See the below article by Steve Alexander from WKRG Channel 5 for more information:

"Imagine living in a home that makes you sick and causes your air conditioning to go out.
That's what several dozen people in Prichard say is happening to them, and they want help.
45 people are filing lawsuits over Chinese drywall in their homes in the Bessemer subdivision of Prichard.
Jerome Leland is one of those filing suit.
He said copper wiring in his house has turned black.
Leland's attorney, Gregory Vaughan, claims the drywall used in Leland's home and other homes is putting out harmful gases.
Vaughan said, "The drywall is off gassing sulphur into these homes, causing damage to a number of electrical systems."
Leland said he's had his his air conditioning system repaired many times, but it keeps breaking.
And that's not all.
Leland said, "My computer, my TV, my washer and dryer, my fire alarm system, all that stuff has been damaged. I had a question mark about a lot of things that were going on in my house, as far as the kids' nosebleeds, my upper respiratory problems."
Leland and Vaughan are suing the Prichard Housing Authority, The Mitchell Company, which built the houses, and suppliers.
Vaughan said, "We'd like to bring the parties together and see if we can't work it out."
Leland said, "I'm just really hoping that they'll do something about this as quick as possible because this is ridiculous."
Aside from this lawsuit, the Prichard Housing Authority is suing The Mitchell Company, and The Mitchell Company is suing Chinese and German suppliers."

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February 12, 2009

Payment Problems at Construction Project in Mobile, Alabama

If your company has failed to receive timley payment regarding work performed in Mobile, Alabama you may be entitled to benefit from "Alabama's Prompt Pay Act" and file a civil action to collect the amount due, the interest accrued, reasonable attorneys' fees, court costs and reasonable expenses from the other party.

Consult legal assistance at once if your bill/invoice has not been promptly paid by the responsible party.

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