CEDAR RAPIDS — As the winter weather thaws in the coming weeks, more Cedar Rapids residents may look to make remaining repairs on their derecho-damaged homes.

The city issued a record number of permits — about 10,000 directly due to the Aug. 10, 2020, storm that pummeled Cedar Rapids, doubling the typical annual average for a total of about 20,000, said Building Services Director Kevin Ciabatti.

That amounts to a value of about nearly $100 million, but he added there probably are millions of dollars in damage that the city does not yet know about.

For those preparing to do work on their property, the city has some tips on how to navigate the permit process.

How does it work?

Contractors need to obtain permits through the Building Services Department for significant roof or siding repairs, structural work or substantial interior construction. This includes wall or truss damage, parts of a structure that were pushed out of alignment, damage to attic rafters and anything that touches electrical, mechanical or plumbing work.

However, permits are not required for minor repairs such as replacing small portions of shingles, small sections of siding, small roof holes or other minor maintenance items.

Fees to obtain a building permit generally are based on the total cost of construction, though there are fixed fees for some work such as fences and handicap ramps.

Residents can learn more about the permit process, view links to permit applications and find links to search for reputable contractors on the city’s website: cedar-rapids.org/homerepair.

Finding contractors

All contractors are required to be licensed and registered through the state to serve in any community here, even if they are licensed in another state, Ciabatti said.

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He said there were incidents after the derecho of contractors coming from out of town who were not licensed to work here. So property owners should take steps to verify their contractor is properly registered.

Residents “are allowed to do their own work on their property if they’re capable of doing so” if they own rather than rent the property, Ciabatti said. “They’re just responsible for all the permits, no different than if a contractor obtained those permits.”

Negotiations between insurance companies, residents and their contractors are outside the scope of Building Service’s work, Ciabatti said, but he emphasized it is important for property owners to ask questions of all parties involved and to understand the work that is needed on the home. The contractor hired should be capable of performing the work needed.

“Homeowners need to protect themselves,” Ciabatti said. “They need to understand what their insurance company is saying the damages and what cost they’re going to pay and coordinate that wholeheartedly with their contractor.”

Building Services takes calls to verify contractors are licensed at (319) 286-5929 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, The department does not make referrals.

Other reputable sources to find or check licensed contractors are:

• Iowa Workforce Division of Labor: contractor.iowa.gov/IowaIWD/CREG/publicSearch/publicSearch.jsp#

• Iowa State Public Health (Plumbing & Heating): idph.iowa.gov/pmsb

• State Fire Marshal Division Electrical Bureau: iowadps.force.com/LicenseSearchPage

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After your contractor has finished work, you can request an inspection in Cedar Rapids from a certified building inspector by calling (319) 286-5831 or emailing [email protected]

Avoiding fraud

Never pay for work upfront and get more than one quote for repairs to find the best deal — even if you’re being enticed with a supposed discount on the spot.

“Because of the nature of this disaster, people were really wanting to get started right away. But the reality is they’ve got to protect themselves,” Ciabatti said.

Property owners also should be wary of contractors who come door to door asking if inspections or other work is needed, he said.

“I would call the contractor if I wanted somebody to do an inspection on my house, so I would say, ‘No, I don’t think I need your services,’” Ciabatti said.

Residents are also advised to check Iowa Courts Online at www.iowacourts.state.ia.us to see if customers have sued a contractor.

People may contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office at 1-888-777-4590 or visit iowaattorneygeneral.gov to report dishonest contractors.

Demolishing property

For properties that sustained major damage and need to be demolished, a building permit is also needed to ensure utilities are disconnected properly for safety.

“We have a process in place to make sure that these things are disconnected appropriately,” Ciabatti said. “ … And of course we would issue the permits once those things are achieved and accomplished so that the demolition was done in a safe manner.”

Questions about the permit process can be directed to Building Services at (319) 286-5831.

Comments: (319) 398-8494; [email protected]

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