Before You Chase a Hurricane
I’ve never had much success chasing Florida hurricanes or working the Texas coast.
In September of 2004, Hurricane Ivan slammed into the Gulf Coast near Mobile, Alabama with a 16-foot storm surge. Pensacola, Florida, 35 miles east of the storm’s eye, caught the front right quadrant of this Category 3 with sustained winds up to 130 mph. The people who chose to ride out the storm said it sounded like a massive train going overhead for several hours.
Hurricane Ivan wasn’t the only Hurricane to hit Florida in 2004. Charlie hit Port Charlotte on August 13th doing $15 Billion in damages. Frances got Martin and Palm Beach counties, then came Ivan up the Gulf Coast before Florida finished the season with Hurricane Jeanne in 2004.
If you didn’t already know, unlicensed contracting in Florida is a felony. Yep, it’s a criminal offense!
Yes. Criminal! Florida Statute Chapter 489 spells out the state’s strict licensing requirements. As a matter of fact, anyone, you, me, a homeowner, your competition, city employee, neighbor, police officer, anyone can check the licensing of any contractor in Florida at http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/ and even get complaint and disciplinary information on the contractor, too.
You don’t want to work in Florida without a valid license because the updated version of Florida Statute Chapter 489.128 specifically says, “As a matter of public policy, contracts entered into on or after October 1, 1990, by an unlicensed contractor shall be unenforceable in law or in equity by the unlicensed contractor.”
Good luck collecting on a contract, or getting a lien to stick, if you aren’t licensed.
Lucky there aren’t any business owners or homeowners in Florida who would knowingly take advantage of out-of-state contractors unaware of this law in the aftermath of a confusing hurricane clean-up situation, huh?
As luck would have it, after the torrent of Hurricanes in 2004, Escambia County (where Pensacola is located) was offering Emergency Licenses if you could pay the fee and pass a semi-formal interview with somebody from the building department.
Paying the fee wasn’t the hard part. We were coming from Texas, where there are no licensing requirements, and the inspector wasn’t happy about granting the Emergency License. However, they desperately needed help and he approved our paperwork within a few minutes of talking to him. I think he just wanted to give us a hard time about being from Texas.
Once they (i.e. City Inspector, Clerk, Competition, etc.) found out you were from out of state, working on an emergency license, you were treated like a second class citizen.
Hey, I don’t blame them, really. When you make your living as a contractor in Florida, you work hard to get and keep your license, train your workers, pay your liability and worker’s comp, and then the state that holds your feet to the fire 24/7/365 just opens the doors and lets anybody and everybody come in…just about the time you’re about to make a killing. Yeah, I get the resentment. I really do.
Well, you think, I’ll just work under somebody else’s license while I’m in Florida.
Let’s assume everything is kosher and just talk about how much it will cost you to do a set under a licensed contractor. I don’t know what the rates will be like this time, but I know there were contractors paying 8%, 12%, up to 20% of the contract. Pretty steep, huh?
What do you think happens to you if you don’t pay your set fees? Hope you don’t get behind on your bills!
If you go sell roofs in Florida for a contractor paying a set fee, and then you pay a seperate overhead fee, and then you split the leftover profits, how much money are you going to end up making?
Again, I don’t know how things will work in Florida this time around, but the last time I was there, you had better of had all your paperwork in order, both as a company, and for every single person working on your job site, including proof of liability and worker’s comp, or the nice people in the round-up patrol would shut down your job, scatter your crew, and hand you a big, fat fine.
Plus, if you’re lucky, your name could show up in the paper, held up as an example of what happens to people who break the law.
No, I’m not making this up.
You can fight with a man over his opinion, but good luck trying to convince the guy with real-life experience. I lived through it and I can tell you for certain, you don’t want the round-up patrol visiting your job site.
Check Your Licenses
If you heard me speak at any of the events with GAF in 2016, you heard my story about having a Pensacola police officer show up at my office to investigate claims of unlicensed contracting.
Well, it turns out, even though the city of Pensacola is located in the county of Escambia, you cannot work in Pensacola (the county seat of Escambia County) with an Escambia County license.
I would love to give you the details because it is a great story, but to keep things short, the friendly officer ended up calling his buddy at the inspector’s office to help us get a Pensacola license and thankfully avert the charges of unlicensed contracting.
If you’re going to go to Florida, check and double-check your license status, before you do the work. A job seemingly out in the unincorporated country, but still technically located in the city, could inadvertently land you in hot water if the right people, and by right people, I mean the wrong people, want to intimidate and harass you.
Needless to say, it’s hard to buy shingles when there aren’t any shingles to buy.
Maybe you’ll have your shingles trucked-in from out of state. Cool. That’s smart, assuming you can find a safe place to store your material…and you can secure a forklift.
However, you better make sure every shingle wrapper you truck in is clearly marked Miami-Dade County approved or your shingles won’t get past the state line. By the way, nobody will admit to installing 3-tab shingles, but do yourself a favor and check out the wrapper on the CT-20 shingles from Certainteed.
On more than one occasion, we had to load up in Mobile, Alabama, and make the 1 hour drive back to Pensacola with a trailer load of almost everything we needed. They love their 2″ drip edge in Pensacola. Good luck finding it in stock after a Hurricane.
Nobody, and I mean nobody, is excited about handing you a check after a Hurricane.
The news media has the community whipped into a fury of fear (that’s how they sell advertising.) Everybody is the boogeyman and nobody should get paid until everything is done, 100% completed, passed inspection, signed off by the city, and their neighbor’s cousin (who was once a roofer before he hurt his back.)
Money moves slow after a Hurricane. Real slow.
The Texas Coast
If you can work for somebody on the Texas coast with a traditional insurance policy (e.g. State Farm, Allstate, Chubb, etc.), you can move your money fairly quickly.
The problem is, carriers have been pulling out of the first-tier counties along the Texas coast for several years now. You’ll still find some grandfathered policies, but a lot of people have to use TWIA (Texas Windstorm Insurance Association), the insurance of last resort, to get a policy. These policies cover wind and hail damage only.
Before the insured can collect back-end money from a TWIA policy, they’ll most likely need proof the work was done according to applicable building codes.
How do you get that proof?
You get it from an Engineer certified to do WPI-8 or WPI-8-C inspections.
Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?
There’s actually a few problems you’ll encounter when trying to get an Engineer to certify your work. First of all, there’s a limited supply of Engineers qualified to do the certifications. Second, they make their money working for the local contractors. Long after you’re gone, after the hurricane is cleaned up, they’ll still be making money from the local contractors. Like most things in life, you dance with the one who brought ya.
Finally, an Engineer isn’t supposed to be subjective, and most are more than fair, but when your nailing lines don’t pass inspection, but the local guy, the contractor who keeps them busy year-round, does pass inspection, you have no choice but to rip off that slope and hit those nailing lines better the next time around.
When push comes to shove, guess who’s most likely to get shoved?
Lost In The Shuffle
You may have to send in your paperwork (e.g. contract, copy of deductible payment, engineer’s report, etc.) a few times before somebody finds it and processes the back-end payment.
I don’t care where you work, after a major CAT event, and especially after a hurricane, there’s going to be a bit of confusion in the office. Everybody is doing their best to help things run smoothly, but many of these offices have people working 12-hour days, 7 days a week, just to handle the sheer volume of paperwork.
Things are going to get lost in the shuffle.
This will slow your money down.
Make You Famous
Personally, I don’t like contingency contracts, but if you’re going to use them, be sure you have all the right verbiage on the contract and your salespeople represent the paperwork honestly.
You can’t have rookies running around town telling people they need their signature to “get up on the roof” when it actually obligates the homeowner into doing business with your company.
Get a name for being shady and it won’t take long for you to get famous in those small coastal towns. And by famous, I mean famous for being run out of town and having the attorney general come after you with the full force & faith of the Great State of Texas.
My Best Advice
If you can do anything other than hurricane chasing, do it, especially when it comes to working Florida and the Texas coast.
If you can’t help yourself, get in with a strong, reputable company, one with deep pockets, lots of connections, and extremely familiar with navigating the local political landscape.
Oh, and good luck!
P.S. I’m sure I have more to say on this topic, much more, but I’m tired, too tired to check my grammar, and it’s late.
P.P.S. If you want to share your advice, or experience, feel free to contact me.
P.P.P.S. This is not legal advice. Everything in this article is for entertainment purposes only. If you need legal advice, go get legal advice. I am not an attorney. I am no longer a licensed adjuster. I am not a Public Adjuster. This is my experience, my opinion, and my advice only. Got it?