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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:

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

    6. 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.

    7. 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.

    8. 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

Work That Requires Permits 

Items that require permits for this storm related event include:

  • Roof repair (if over 100 square feet) or replacement of the entire roof
  • Window or door replacement
    Replacing glass does not require a permit. Use safety glass next to doors and above showers and tubs.
  • Electrical repairs to restore power
  • Skylight replacement
  • Fence permits if more than 25% damaged but must be same-for-same in height. Style must match in historic districts.
  • Your insurance company may require proof of a permit and final inspection prior to payment of the claim.

NOTE: A handyman is not permitted to complete any of the above items nor any work for which a State License is required.


Assignment of Benefits Issues

An Assignment of Benefits (AOB) is a document that allows insurance policyholders to sign over their insurance rights or benefits to a third party. This allows the third party to file an insurance claim, make repair decisions and collect on benefits without the policyholder’s involvement. While AOBs can offer convenience to policyholders attempting to navigate the insurance claims process, unscrupulous individuals and companies may seek to take advantage of the power an AOB provides them.

If your home is damaged, keep the following in mind as you seek to make repairs:

  • Know that you are not required to sign an AOB in order to have repairs made or to process an insurance claim.
  • Be wary of any company that pressures you to sign or insists upon the use of an AOB in order to do repairs.
  • Read the entire contract carefully to ensure you are not signing over your benefits without your full knowledge and consent. Some unscrupulous contractors may attempt to hide an AOB within a lengthy repair contract.
  • Know that an AOB contains language that, once executed, would prevent you from communicating with your insurance company about the claim.
  • Do not sign an AOB if there are blank spaces in the document.
  • Legislation that became effective July 1, 2019, allows new AOBs to be rescinded within 14 days of execution.
  • This 2019 legislation also allowed new AOBs to be rescinded at least 30 days after the scheduled work start date if the assignee has not begun substantial work. (If no start date is listed, a new AOB can be rescinded at least 30 days following the execution date if the assignee has not begun substantial work.)

Questions & Concerns 

If there are any questions e-mail buildinginspection@lakelandgov.net or call 863.834.6012

Author: City of Lakeland Building Inspection Division and the Consumer Protection Division of the State of Florida Office of the Attorney General