Saturday, February 28, 2009

Unlicensed and underinsured contractors

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation writes a lot about their efforts to stop unlicensed activity. I appreciate their efforts although they are severely limited by a lack of funding which results in less of an ability to enforce the law. When they write about unlicensed activity and what consumers can do to protect themselves, they mention checking the contractor’s license of the person performing the work. They should also inform you that consumers should make sure that the company or person that they are entering into a contract with is the same person or company listed on the license. This is because some unlicensed contractors use another contractor’s license to pull the permit. This is illegal and is called aiding and abetting an unlicensed contractor. The DBPR should also educate the consumer and the local building departments that they should never pull a permit for anyone to do work on their home. The exception which never happens is if the consumer follows the law and covers that unlicensed worker as an employee with workers compensation and withholds payroll taxes.

If the consumer knows that that is the requirement, homeowners would never pull the permit. This can best be stopped at the building department level. The other day I was attempting to procure a permit for an extensive dock repair with one of my customers. He and his engineer had prepared the plans for the permitting. I took my customer who is over 80 years old with me to get the permit in case the plans examiners had questions for him. When we appeared at the permit intake desk, the lady assumed that I was an unlicensed contractor helping the owner to pull the permit so that I could illegally repair his dock. She directed us to fill out the Homeowner’s Affidavit form that the building departments supply that basically states that the owner is going to perform the work himself or with family or with insured employees withholding payroll taxes. It was apparent that there was no way that the owner was capable of installing the piling for the dock as was required in the permit and the permit intake lady knew that. But she sent us over to fill out the form fraudulently. When I advised her that I am a Florida State Certified Marine Contractor, then of course the form was not needed. But had I not indicated that I was a licensee, we would have gotten the permit and if I were unlicensed and uninsured and performed the work, the project would have been performed illegally exposing the customer to great risk.

If the DBPR educates the building/permitting departments and gets their cooperation on this, we would cut unlicensed activity in the State by at least 70%. This would mean a lot less ripped off consumers. There would be significantly less docks and seawalls being built over neighbor’s property lines, built incorrectly and a lot less pain and suffering associated with such things.

Another way to view this issue is to consider an unlicensed doctor. By being unlicensed, he is showing that he lacks the ability to become licensed and exposes the consumers to great harm. Unlicensed doctors go to jail. In fact all the licensed doctors who went to school, passed their tests, performed their internship and became a part of the medical establishment would be up in arms if they knew of an unlicensed doctor seeing patients and performing operations. What of the consumer? If he did not know that the doctor was unlicensed and perhaps there were forged documents on the wall or websites showing the doctors fine work, well then the poor consumer has been duped and could suffer greatly. But what about the consumer that goes to the doctor knowing that the doctor is unlicensed and breaking the law? For the illusion of saving money, they are willing to help the doctor break the law that was designed to protect the consumer?
I don’t feel that the consumer deserves the bad workmanship or lack of exposure to loss without recourse that they receive working with the unlicensed doctor. They may have not been educated on the serious ramifications of dealing with an unlicensed professional.

For marine construction, United States Longshoreman and Harborworker’s Act insurance is required. Through our work at the Florida Marine Contractor’s Association, we have gotten the cost of the coverage reduced significantly. It is now an additional rider on top of the normal worker’s compensation insurance. Our code for Workers Comp for dock and seawall building is 6006F. While we are training the building/permitting departments about the unlicensed activity, we hope to also train them to reject contractors from permitting docks or seawalls if on or adjacent to any water body unless they have the 6006F on their policy. This further protects the consumer in case one of the workers is injured. Learn more about worker's compensation fraud.
If we can stop unlicensed contractor activity, the consumer will be better off, the economy will be better off and the contractors who have paid their dues by procuring the experience, the licensing and the insurance to work as professionals for the public will be better off. Everyone wins except the criminals who should not win. Crime should not pay, but until we can stop unlicensed and uninsured and underinsured contractor activity, crime does pay.

For a licensed marine contractor with the appropriate insurance to protech thier employees and customers, contact Cloud 9 Services, Inc. at 407-466-9952