How to Identify an Unlicensed Contractor

A recent article in The Sun-Sentinel, “How to Avoid Hiring Unlicensed Contractors," explained that 6,000 complaints were filed in the state of Florida last year alone regarding unlicensed contractors. That’s a lot of complaints! It’s important to educate yourself on how to properly hire a licensed contractor, what questions to ask, and how to spot a fraud.

Background Check

The following contractors need a state certificate or need to be registered with the state:

  • General
  • Building
  • Plumbing
  • Mechanical
  • Electrical
  • Alarm system
  • Sheet metal
  • Roofing
  • Plumbing
  • Air conditioning

Licensed contractors must

  • Put their license number in advertisements of all forms
  • Carry general liability, property damage, and worker’s compensation insurance

Red Flags

  • Your contractor suggests a large down payment before the work begins. Only partial payments should be made.
  • If they call themselves a “licensed handyman”- there’s no such thing!
  • If you’re asked to pay in cash or make the check payable to cash or an individual instead of a company
  • You, as the homeowner, are asked to secure permits
  • If you’re told the job doesn’t need a building permit. This is very rare! Check it out with your local building department first
  • If the contractor will only work weekends and evenings
  • If the contractor only asks for a verbal contract- get it in writing!
  • If the contractor does not have proof of insurance

Be Proactive

  • Get estimates from at least three contractors. They should specify how long it will take them and the type of material they’ll use for the job.
  • Don’t choose your contractor just on price. Ask for references, see how long they’ve been working, check out past jobs they’ve done.
  • If you’re using an independent contractor, ask to see both a professional and a driver’s license and make sure the names match up
  • Check if your contractor has unresolved complaints, or if his or her license has ever been revoked or suspended
  • Get everything in writing!
  • To check out a license, you can go to www.myfloridalicense.com, Click “Verify a License”. Or call (850) 487-1395

Consequences

If you hire an unlicensed contractor, even if accidentally, you put yourself at the following risks:

  • Losing your deposit
  • Having an unfinished job
  • Being liable for injured workers on your property
  • Having fewer options if something does go wrong
  • Wasted time and money!

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