By Ali Sahabi
Growing alarm over the threat of earthquakes up and down the Pacific coast has sparked an influx of inexperienced companies hoping to get a piece of a new business opportunity. In this atmosphere, how can you tell who’s legitimate and who’s not?
Here are four easy steps to ensure you are selecting a reputable firm to do the work, and that the process followed will bring you the best results for the safety of your tenants and protection of your building.
Do a Background Check
First and foremost, be sure that the engineer, architect or contractor you plan to hire is licensed.
The State Board for Professional Engineers, Land Surveyors and Geologists maintains a database of the names of individuals with professional licenses with the state. Visit www.bpelsg.ca.gov for more information. If the name you’re searching for isn’t there, you can call 1-866-780-5370 to make sure the omission is not due to a clerical error.
The California Architects Board lists licensed architects at www.cab.ca.gov.
The California Contractors State License Board keeps a database of all licensed and insured contractors at www.cslb.ca.gov.
Check on References and Experience
Make sure your contractor has done at least five projects in the past year and verify the work by contacting the building owner or manager, and arrange to visit the site. Check out the finished work to see if it blends well with the original paint, stucco and other building elements. Inspect the placement of structural elements and the impact of the retrofit on the use of the building. Did they lose a parking space in the process?
Research the firm’s ability to work with tenants
When checking a contractor’s references, be sure to follow up on how the firm deals with tenants during the construction process. Some questions to ask include:
- Whether tenants needed to be relocated, and why
- Were tenants able to use their usual parking spaces during non-business hours
- Were the grounds kept clean and hazards such as tools and construction material contained
Obtain Proper Insurance Documentation
Worker’s compensation and professional and general liability insurance are needed to protect you and your property in the event something goes wrong. Never assume a contractor has liability coverage and insist that you be provided a certificate of insurance to verify their coverage.
Some companies may present you with a certificate of worker’s compensation, but it’s important to check their status with the CCSLB. Go to www.cslb.ca.gov, click on “check a contractor license,” search for the business name, click on the appropriate license number, then scroll down to the section dealing with workers’ compensation. Click on “workers’ compensation history.”
If the posting states “exempt” click on the word for an explanation. Typically, this means that the company owner lists himself as the sole employee, and that no workers are insured under worker’s compensation. That puts you – the building owner – at risk in the event of any jobsite accidents or injuries.
Without worker’s compensation, apartment owners may also find themselves on the hook for:
- Liabilities associated with death or injuries of subcontractors or workers hired under the table.
- Financial liens filed against your property in the event that the general contractor does not pay his subcontractors or laborers.
Remember that general liability for contractors is based on a specific trade classification. Be sure that the company you hire is insured specifically for seismic retrofit work. If not, insurance companies may try to reject claims of injury or death, and liability could be passed on to you.
Finally, as a part of your written contract, make sure you are named as additionally insured and have your insurance agent and/or legal representative review the additional insured endorsement before signing the contract.
Ali Sahabi, a licensed General Engineering Contractor (GEC), is an expert in seismic resilience and sustainability. He is Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Optimum Seismic, Inc., which has completed more than 3,500 seismic retrofitting and renovation projects for multifamily residential, commercial, and industrial buildings throughout California.