Finding Normal After the Disaster - Debris Removal

Finding Normal After the Disaster - Debris Removal

How to find the right company to remove debris

October 1, 2013 by Staci Giordullo

When a storm, fire or freak accident destroys a house, the owners generally accept responsibility for cleaning up the debris. In most cases, a homeowners insurance policy covers the cost of removal, but may not provide reimbursement until after the work is done. Particularly in times of distress, highly rated debris removal companies, most of which handle whole-house jobs, caution homeowners to do their due diligence before hiring.

“Make sure the company you hire has the proper insurance and license because once they are on your property, they’re a liability,” says C. Jason Sheets, owner of highly rated Green Acres Junk Removal & Hauling in York, Pa. To avoid possible scams, he advises homeowners to confirm that the company has completed criminal background checks on its employees, and he says move on to the next one if they try to dodge that question. “Look for a company that has uniformed employees and well-marked vehicles. Spray-painted names on the side of a truck is an indicator not to hire!”


Sayreville, NJ, 11/29/12 -- Piles of debris remain one month after Hurricane Sandy flooded these homes. (Photo by Liz Roll/FEMA)

Licensing and permit regulations for demolition and debris removal vary by municipality. Some areas require a permit based on the total weight of the load, while others depend on whether the debris consists of construction materials, hazardous waste or trees and brush. If your house needs to be torn down, the contractor you hire may need to be licensed, so be sure to check local regulations.

Michael Hartfield, CEO of highly rated Rubbish Works of San Antonio, says homeowners need to exercise patience before signing any contracts. “After a disaster, because resources are stretched, ask [the company] about timing,” he says. “Get a clause that work will be completed by such-and-such a time. Get a firm quote in writing.” Typically, the average cost to remove debris is between 2 and 5 percent of what it will cost to rebuild, he says. Paul Zambrotta, co-owner of highly rated Mr. T Carting in Ridgewood, N.Y., says his crews kept busy removing ruined contents of flooded homes after Superstorm Sandy hit the Atlantic coastal area last October. However, he warns homeowners not to hire based on price alone. “Nine times out of 10, people are looking for the cheapest price,” he says. “And those companies might use bad equipment and damage your property even more. They might hire fly-by-night drivers without the proper training.”

If the destruction warrants a federal disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may step in and offer funding and technical assistance for debris removal. The exact procedure varies depending on a community’s emergency plan, but typically local or state governments hire debris removal contractors to clear an area, then receive reimbursement from FEMA. “If you have large scale events like a tornado or hurricane, you’re going to have big-time relief agents come in,” Hartfield says.

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