Beware of unlicensed contractors -- check for professional documentation

December 28, 2013 

This month's sting of a batch of unlicensed contractors should serve as another warning to property owners about hiring workers to improve their homes and businesses.

Manatee County officials issued that alert yet again in the wake of Operation Handyman, which netted nine arrests.

Homeowners should be cautious and demand to inspect licenses and other vital documentation to rest assured that workers are following state requirements and regulations.

And that you as the property owner cannot be held liable in the event of a worker injury while on the job, an expensive proposition in some cases.

Simply put, unlicensed contractors are perpetrating a fraud, as Florida Chief Financial Officer Jess Atwater pointed out in commending Operation Handyman.

Law enforcement agencies throughout Manatee County and state officials participated in this important sting, just like an operation last year that netted 14 arrests.

Florida law requires a contractor's license and workers' compensation insurance. The state sets specific rules and guidelines for professional licensing, standards that protect Floridians from personal harm or financial loss. The liability for injuries to uninsured contractors could be devastating.

Those laws also protect licensed professionals from unfair competition with cut-rate unlicensed individuals.

The idea that an unlicensed handyman will bring the same quality of work that a top-notch professional provides at a lower cost often backfires on homeowners, too, leading to unnecessary expenses to repair shoddy work.

Plus, homeowners may discover they cannot close on a sale with home improvement work that has not received the proper permits.

This is not to say there aren't capable and scrupulous handymen whose work meets high standards, but that doesn't release a homeowner from liability.

Officials also advise homeowners to never pay more than 10 percent down on a project or $1,000, whichever is less. Pay the balance after work is complete. Too many homeowners are talked into paying far more up front only to see their handyman disappear.

State law strictly punishes unlicensed contractors -- one year in prison for a first-time offender; five years if a repeat offender, and five years for each charge.

Since stings occur regularly across the state, unlicensed contractors are on notice to obtain the proper professional credentials and insurance. The penalty is too severe to risk.

We urge homeowners to perform due diligence and request documentation that proves compliance with state law.

A handyman can be checked out quietly, too, since consumers can verify professional licenses online at www.myfloridalicense.com, or call 850-487-1395.

Manatee County residents have another option, calling the Building and Permitting Department at 748-4501, ext. 3800.

Also, property owners should report suspected unlicensed work by emailing ULA@myfloridalicense.com or calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 866-532-1440.

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