To coincide with National Consumer Protection Week, March 4-10, 2012, Joe Canosa, General Manager of Lindstrom Air, a locally owned and operated business since 1975, encourages homeowners to do their homework and ensure that any contractors they hire are licensed, bonded, and insured. National Consumer Protection Week, according to their website, “is an annual campaign among government and non-profit entities that encourages consumers to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions in the marketplace.”
Florida Statute 455.228 states that home improvement contractors must be certified by the State as a General, Building, or Residential contractor. If you hire a contractor who is unlicensed, the penalties can include:
- The Department of Professional Regulations may issue a cease and desist order.
- The Department may also take you to Circuit Court and you can be given a $5,000 penalty for each offense, plus court cost.
- You are responsible for all work, not the contractor, if you obtain the permit for an unlicensed contractor.
“Any home improvement project that requires a contractor is a major investment. It’s absolutely worth a few hours of your time to be sure that a contractor is reputable. Anyone who doesn’t check into the people they let into their home is opening the door to a number of potentially costly problems,” cautions Canosa.
According to a report done by CBS News, each year homeowners lose millions of dollars to unlicensed contractors. A few of the ways homeowner losses can occur:
- A contractor who doesn’t have worker’s compensation insurance and is injured on the job can sue a homeowner for medical bills for any injuries that happen on their property. Homeowner’s insurance doesn’t always cover all of the bills.
- If a contractor doesn’t finish the work or does a poor job, necessitating further repairs, the homeowner will have to pay for the work to be corrected or finished.
- The homeowner may be held liable for unpaid bills to suppliers, even if the contractor has already been paid for them.
- For appliances or heating and cooling equipment:
- Voiding of factory warranties
- Unsafe or inefficient operation
- Shortened equipment life
- Frequent breakdowns
- Building code Infractions and penalties
- Property damage or theft
Homeowners should take some time to ensure that their contractor is licensed and insured, as well as that they are reputable.
- Check with the local Better Business Bureau for the contractor’s history of complaints and resolutions.
- Ask for multiple references and check them.
- Ask for licenses, bonding, and insurance coverage. Call the licensing and bonding agencies and the insurance company to verify. Remember, just because a contractor says they are licensed, doesn’t mean they are.
- Get a detailed written estimate. If a contractor won’t provide one, it’s a red flag.
- Get more than one estimate. If one contractor is quite a bit lower than another for the same work, they may be unlicensed.
There are things every homeowner should beware of, according to Canosa. Watch out if your contractor:
- Asks you to get the permit for him
- Requires a large down payment before beginning work
- Has no license number displayed prominently
- Only has an “Occupational License”
- Tells you your work doesn’t need a permit
- Won’t give you a written estimate or contract
- Cannot provide proof of general liability or workman’s compensation insurance
For more information on National Consumer Protection Week, visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/ncpw/index.shtml
To read the entire story from CBS News, visit http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/10/12/earlyshow/contributors/susankoeppen/main6950069.shtml
For more information on Florida’s contractor laws, visit http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/FileStores/Web/Statutes/FS09/CH0455/Section_0455.228.HTM