And How To Spot One Before You Hire Them
The remodeling business in our region has experienced a permanent boom for years and shows no signs of slowing down. While that’s great news for contractors, it’s not so good for homeowners.
Because where there is great demand, there is great opportunity – and not all companies are honest.
Becoming a licensed contractor isn’t easy. Applicants must submit financial information, survive a credit check and an FBI background check complete with fingerprinting, and more. The entire process takes months and can cost thousands of dollars.
These requirements are meant to protect homeowners from unscrupulous remodeling contractors, but enforcement personnel are not able to prevent all unlicensed activity.
Unlicensed contractors are common throughout Florida, despite our State’s strict guidelines – or perhaps because of them. And these contractors could create serious risks for the homeowners who hire them.
Below are five of the biggest risks you’ll face from unlicensed contractors, followed by ways to protect yourself from placing your home at the mercy of those who prey on the unwary.
1) You Can Be Left Hanging
The first step after signing a home remodeling proposal is paying your deposit. Deposits are an act of faith – faith that the work will be done and faith that you’ll pay the rest of the bill at the end.
Unfortunately, the amount of your deposit can be significant, and you are betting tens of thousands of dollars that everything will work out – and unlicensed contractors know this, too.
The worst of them will first do the demo work so they can harvest your old fixtures to sell, then disappear. One unlicensed contractor even faked his death1 to avoid returning a homeowner’s deposit.
While few contractors will go to such lengths to cheat you, you could still be left with a torn-up house and near-zero legal recourse, all while having paid for the punishment.
At Gilbert Design Build, we live by a code of ethics that doesn’t allow such dishonesty.
2) No Permits
Only two people can pull a permit for remodeling work – a licensed contractor or the homeowner of record. So, when you hire an unlicensed contractor, you must pull the permits yourself, except they’ll never tell you that.
And when they finish the work, you’re left with a remodel that was never registered with the county, which means you can’t claim any improvement like a second bathroom or addition when you try to list your home.
And if you try to pay for the permits after the fact, you’ll find heavy fines attached to the standard fee.
Because, no matter what the circumstances, proper permitting is ultimately the responsibility of the homeowner, not the contractor.
With Gilbert Design Build, we treat every aspect of your build with integrity, including obtaining proper permitting for the work we do on your home.
3) No Inspections
If no permits were pulled, nobody with the county will know that work is being done on your home, and no inspections will be scheduled.
While most homeowners find inspections onerous and expensive, avoiding them is a huge mistake. These inspectors exist to ensure that the construction done on your home is up to code and safe for you and your family.
The early inspections are especially important during a remodel. This includes framing, plumbing, and electrical work, where shoddy workmanship can have serious consequences.
When it comes to our process, we welcome inspectors because they are never as tough on our work as we are. We don’t resent it if they find something we need to address – we consider it a favor.
4) Your Contract Isn’t Real
While you may sign a contract with an unlicensed contractor, it has no value. It’s impossible to have a binding agreement if it involves an illegal act, and operating as a contractor without the proper licensing is not legal.
So, even if you can point to language in the contract that supports your claims if things go sideways, you can’t take them to court based on that language.
The best you can hope for is to claim fraud, but even then, the courts will expect you to have done your due diligence which would have kept you from entering the contract in the first place.
Is it fair? Probably not – but it’s still true. And you’ll likely spend far more than you lost if you try to get your money back.
Here at Gilbert Design-Build, we treat our contracts with the respect they deserve. We’ll never try to escape responsibility and will always live up to, and generally exceed, the expectations of every contract.
5) You Are Liable For Any Injuries
The unfortunate truth is that you are responsible for ensuring that nothing illegal happens on your property. And since acting as a contractor when unlicensed isn’t legal, anything that occurs during your home remodel is your responsibility – including injuries.
A worker injured on your property has only one place to turn to cover expenses. He or she can’t file for unemployment, disability or workman’s comp because the injury occurred during an illegal act, which leaves the responsibility on you and your home insurance.
Except, your home insurance won’t cover the expense since the injury is connected to an illegal act. So, when you hire an unlicensed contractor, you’re taking on more risk than you might think.
We tightly control every aspect of the design-build process and will never allow one of our clients to become liable for our workers. Proper coverage is a prerequisite for working on a Gilbert Design Build project.
Spotting Unlicensed Contractors
Unlicensed contractors aren’t criminal masterminds, and not all are necessarily bad people – but the risks to you remain large no matter their motives. So, your best defense is to spot them before you sign on the dotted line.
The simplest method is to look at anything printed with their company name. By law, licensed contractors must display their license number whenever their company name is in public view.
So, their license number must be on any truck signs, yard signs, business cards and even their website. An unscrupulous contractor may try to trick you with “licensed & insured” on their signage, but there won’t be a license number on display.
And if there is a license number, you can check its authenticity via the web. You can go to sunbiz.org to verify they are who and what they say they are.
If you are planning to remodel your home and don’t want to be sabotaged by an unlicensed contractor, call us at Gilbert Design Build for a free consultation.