Contractors & Repair Info
Protect Your Home & Business from Unlicensed Activity
In the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, many Lakeland-area homes and businesses need storm-related repairs and qualified contractors are in high demand. Unfortunately, these are prime conditions for scam artists and unlicensed contractors to take advantage of property owners. When a person who is not licensed by the state performs (or offers to perform) a job or service that requires licensure, that is unlicensed construction activity. During a declared State of Emergency, the penalty for unlicensed construction activity is a third-degree felony.
Unlicensed contractors can put property owners at risk in a variety of ways: poor quality work, poor quality materials, insurance fraud, broken contracts, and other scams. Occasionally, these unlicensed contractors will travel from out of state to exploit Floridians living in a disaster area. Because of this, it is important to know that even if the contractor is licensed in a different state, they must attain a license or registration from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) to perform repairs in Florida.
Steps to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Unlicensed Activity
Follow these steps to avoid becoming a victim of unlicensed activity after a storm:
- Understand Which Repairs Require a State Contractor’s License
As a general rule, DBPR regulates work that modifies the structure of a building or home. Roof repairs and replacements require a license, as do new window installations, plumbing repairs, and electrical repairs or rewiring. Conversely, cleanup services do not require a license, including trimming and removing fallen trees, removing debris, or placing a tarp on a roof.
- Ask For Multiple Opinions and Written Estimates.
Request repair estimates from more than one contractor. By requesting several bids, you can validate your first assessment to see if it is a fair estimate. Check the references for each contractor or construction business you are interested in hiring. You can contact the Attorney General’s hotline by calling 1-866-9-NO-SCAM and the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org to see if there are complaints against the company.
- Use Good Judgment When it Comes to Signing a Contract
Be wary of anyone who approaches you unsolicited or says they can perform your repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job. Do not commit to a contract, make a payment, or provide personal or financial information to a contractor on the spot. Typical contracting scams involve pressuring consumers to make a decision quickly by greatly reducing the price. It is good practice to get everything in writing -- this includes a thorough description of the work to be completed, the total cost of the repairs, and the date of completion. Read the entire contract, including the fine print, before signing. Ensure that the contract includes the required “buyer’s right to cancel” (within 3 days) language.
- Never Pay the Full Amount Up Front and Be Careful About Making Large Deposits
Withholding payment is the best tool homeowners have to protect themselves and ensure that work is completed as agreed. Florida law requires contractors to apply for a permit within 30 days and start work within 90 days if they collect more than 10 percent of the contract upfront. Always pay by check. Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until you are satisfied with the work performed. If the repair requires a permit, it is appropriate to withhold a final payment until the final permit inspection is completed.
Homeowners may unknowingly have liens placed against their properties by suppliers or subcontractors who have not been paid by the contractor. If the contractor fails to pay them, the liens will remain on the title. Insist on releases of any liens that could be placed on the property from all subcontractors prior to making final payments.
- Always Verify a Contractor’s License Before Hiring or Signing a Contract
Per Florida Statute, contractors must include their license number on all advertising, including their business cards. You can verify a contractor’s name or license number by visiting www.myfloridalicense. com, calling the DBPR Customer Contact Center at 850.487.1395, or downloading the free DBPR Mobile App available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores.
Ask to see a copy of the license. A Business Tax Receipt is not a license. When verifying a license, make sure the license is active and not delinquent, suspended, revoked, or on probation. In addition to viewing the license’s current status, you can also check for public complaints against the contractor.
- Do Not Pull an Owner/Builder Permit if You Do Not Intend to Do the Work Yourself
If someone without a construction license asks you to pull an owner/builder permit on their behalf, they are putting you at risk of financial harm. If you pull an owner/builder permit for an unlicensed contractor to perform work on your property, you must deduct F.I.C.A., withholding tax, and provide workers' compensation insurance for them. Without workers' compensation insurance, you could be held liable for any injuries that occur on your property and it might not be covered under your homeowners' insurance policy.
- Be wary of anyone offering to reduce or rebate your homeowner’s insurance policy deductible
Florida law prohibits contractors from paying, waiving, or rebating any part of a deductible on repairs made to property covered by an insurance policy.
- Report Any Unlicensed Activity
Consumers should report suspected unlicensed activity to DBPR by calling the Unlicensed Activity Hotline at 866.532.1440 or by emailing ULA@myfloridalicense.com. When in doubt, take a picture of the person’s driver's license, the person, and the license plate on the vehicle. During a disaster, DBPR may dispatch groups to organize door-to-door sweeps in conjunction with law enforcement, building departments, and other state agencies.
Maintaining a home or business is one of the most significant investments you will make during your lifetime. When it comes to repairing and renovating a home or business after a natural disaster, make sure to only hire a contractor licensed or registered by the State of Florida. This is the safest and smartest way to protect you and your investments