The motivations of unlicensed contractors are pretty consistent — and capitalistic. They are here to make some money.
Unfortunately, some of them are here to make quick money — sometimes with quick and shoddy work at the expense of local homeowners still reeling from some of the damages of the last-season hurricanes.
Unlicensed construction and repair firms often lack necessary bonding and insurance.
Scofflaws who are not registered in the state can face misdemeanor charges for a first offense and felony charges for additional offenses if they are previously convicted of such crimes.
There have been recent arrests of unlicensed contractors in North Port and Venice.
There are situations where homeowners could also face fines for unlicensed work and property owners could end up being liable for payments to subcontractors and insurance claims when a scofflaw skips town before work is done.
But the issue often comes down to the old Latin, common law phrase 'Caveat emptor'.
The issue requires plenty of due diligence from residential and commercial property owners. Floridians should be used to scam artists and sketchy businesses with all the robocalls and other fraud rings that target seniors and others.
Consumer protection and local governments have plenty of checklists homeowners can follow to help avoid scammers and transgressors.
That includes asking for state contractor licenses as well as copies of an operator's workers compensation and general liability insurance policies as well as getting estimates and contracts in writing. Like with other businesses, it can also be useful to ask for references who can attest to a construction outfit's previous work.
Getting multiple bids for a repair job can also give some clarity to who is legitimate — and who isn't. The Cape Coral Construction Industry Association also said in a consumer alert to be on the watch for work bids that are "too good to be true."
There are resources available to do some quick and important research on construction companies and their principals.
You can search state portals for information on contractors at https://tinyurl.com/4kswmcmv. Homeowners can also report suspected unauthorized and unlicensed contractors to the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation at 866-532-1440.
Local governments also have some resources available to report suspicious contractors and companies. That includes Charlotte County (https://tinyurl.com/4jzucj43) and Sarasota County.
The Sarasota County Planning and Development Services department can help verify contractor licenses (at 941-861-6126 or [email protected]).
The county also has a list of trades requiring licensing listed at www.scgov.net and suspicious businesses operating in Sarasota County can be reported at 941-861-5000.
DeSoto County also has some contacts and tips for navigating post-storm construction work and avoiding scammers at https://tinyurl.com/423zsnsm. One of those tips includes avoiding paying cash for repairs and rebuilds.
The Manasota Air Conditioning Contractors Association also notes that unlicensed operators will sometimes take and then abandon bigger jobs that are beyond their expertise and competence levels and that manufacturers will sometimes not honor warranties for unbonded and under-the-table work.
Every community that deals with hurricanes and other major natural disasters can be confronted by an influx of contractors and repair firms. Some of those firms are legit — some aren't. It just takes ample servings of due diligence to avoid getting ripped off.