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Hurricane Harvey Brings Out the Best and Worst in Human Nature; Contractors Be Mindful

By: Matthew L. Motes

Attorney

All of us continue to be overwhelmed, and even perplexed, by the images and reports from Houston and most of south Texas.  There have been more heroic efforts than you can count.  Many risked their lives to save people, household pets, and even livestock.  Everyone, it seems, is asking to help.  As a life-long Texan, it makes me proud to live here.

Unfortunately, disasters also bring out the worst in people who only care about the almighty dollar.  In the recent years of Hurricanes Rita, Ike and other flooding disasters, there have been countless instances of unscrupulous builders or out-of-state contractors flocking to Texas to take advantage of property owners following a natural disaster.  Fortunately, property owners and contractors can take legal steps to protect themselves from further financial consequences.

In 2011, the Texas Legislature passed Chapter 58 to the Texas Business and Commerce Code (Chapter 58) to protect both legitimate Texas contractors and property owners from fly-by-night shysters who prey on people following a natural disaster when they are most vulnerable.  We have all heard stories of families whose homes were damaged and who paid a large deposit to a “contractor” to repair their houses, only to have the workers who promised to do the job disappear with their money and not perform any work.  In this instance, owners are not the only victim.  The actions of such contractors also impact the businesses of legitimate Texas contractors who follow the law and are simply trying to provide for their families.

It is important to note this law only applies to counties that have been declared disaster areas by Governor Abbott.  At last count, that number was up to 43 counties.  This is important because if you are having work performed on your property, Chapter 58 will protect you against unscrupulous builders and price gauging.  The contractor cannot accept full, or partial payment, before it begins the work, or that is not proportionate to the work performed.

If you are the contractor performing work in these Disaster Counties, you must provide a statutory disclosure to the owner as part of its contract.  Contractors who fail to provide this disclosure automatically violate the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act and subject themselves to damages. 

Prior to engaging a contractor, property owners are encouraged to do research before entering into a contract or paying anything. Consider contractors who are members of professional organizations like the Texas Association of Builders, Associated General Contractors, local homebuilders associations, or the Certified Master Builder Program.  Typically, these contractors have roots in the community, are knowledgeable of applicable laws, and have a vested stake in performing legally compliant work.

Texas contractors who perform disaster remediation are encouraged to contact their attorney or trade associations to obtain the statutory disclosure necessary to comply with the statute.  Experienced construction attorneys and associations such as the Texas Association of Builders and Certified Master Builder Program have forms for this very situation.

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About Matt Motes.  Matt is the managing partner and a shareholder with the Fort Worth law firm of Decker Jones, P.C. and focuses his practice on construction law.  Matt is a member of the National Association of Builders, Texas Association of Builders and related local associations in Texas.  Matt frequently gives speeches and writes articles on construction-related topics.  This article is provided for informational purposes only, is not a substitute for specific legal advice, and is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between Mr. Motes, his firm, and the readers of this publication.

About Decker Jones, P.C.  As a full-service law firm headquartered in Fort Worth, Decker Jones proudly serves clients throughout North Texas with numerous business and personal interests across the U.S.  The firm believes in a one-on-one approach to customer service.  With every client having a single point of contact supported by a network of attorneys working together, Decker Jones applies creative solutions to complex legal issues across a wide range of practice areas.  In doing so, they help their clients achieve long-term goals while addressing immediate legal needs and seizing business opportunities.

Decker Jones originated in 1896, providing a strong foundation for serving its clients from one generation to the next.  Today, the firm honors this legacy by retaining the names of two firm mentors, Robert Decker and Kenneth Jones.  Decker Jones takes pride in providing clients with the responsiveness, expertise, and results they deserve.

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