On December 4th, 2013 the Bradenton Police department, based in the state of Florida, commenced “Operation Unhandyman.” The target of the operation: to root out unlicensed contractors working in Manatee County without required workers compensation insurance coverage or insurance exemptions. Within two days, the department had made nine arrests after undercover law enforcement met with the individuals in question, and procured an estimate for construction work. Consumers have begun to use unlicensed contractors more frequently since the housing bubble collapse in 2007, but many are unaware of the risk involved in hiring an unlicensed contractor. While they may cost less in the short run, using an unlicensed contractor could be potentially catastrophic in the long run (just watch “Holmes on Homes” on HGTV!).
Law enforcement has sought to do its best to remove unlicensed contractors whenever possible, by constantly monitoring sites such as Craigslist and Angieslist for both unlicensed contractors and scam artists. However, there will still inevitably be those who avoid discovery, and then it becomes of utmost importance for the consumer to protect themselves. As Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated, “Unlicensed contractors can cause more damage than they were hired to repair, so it is essential that anyone looking to hire a contractor do their homework.”
The Ten Commandments of Hiring a Contractor
1.) Ask to see a license (and tell the contractor that their license will be verified)
2.) Verify that license
3.) Do not pay more than 10% down or $1,000 (whichever is less)
4.) Get 3 bids on the job
5.) Check references
6.) Get a written contract
7.) Beware those who ask for money upfront or will only accept cash. Also, avoid those who go door to door to drum up business.
8.) Make sure the contractor is licensed for work you need. Electricians cannot do plumbing work
9.) If you hire a general contractor make sure the specialists they hire (i.e. plumbers, electricians, etc.) are licensed too
10.) Do not sign a certificate of completion until you are satisfied with the work they have done
Being diligent in your research when hiring someone to do work on your house is the best way to protect yourself from scam artists and unlicensed contractors. Never be afraid to ask as many questions as necessary to get the answers you need to feel confident in the job you’re having done.