- July 22, 2020
During post-storm cleanup, unsuspecting consumers can be easy prey for unlicensed contractors whose bids almost inevitably will be much lower than bids from licensed contractors. The strong appeal of saving money can be overwhelming, but buyers must beware. The cheapest contractor available may be the one who will cost the most in the long run.
Most people don’t understand the risks and therefore don’t do the proper background checks on contractors, and they often end up regretting it. Having a license is critical, because it protects both parties from anything that may go wrong during the process.
Unlicensed contractors have advantages that enable them to provide the lowest prices. They don’t have to pay licensing fees; don’t have to obtain a bond to protect their work; and, more often than not, don’t purchase liability or workers compensation insurance. Without these added expenses, the unlicensed contractor can provide their services at a rate lower than the legitimately licensed professional, but it puts the consumer at risk.
If you hire an unlicensed contractor and he or she falls off a ladder while doing work at your business or house, you’re liable. An unlicensed contractor also may try to cut corners on the work, because he or she doesn’t have to adhere to building codes. So if a hurricane or even a severe thunderstorm hits, your house or business may not hold up to Florida weather conditions.
The goal of the Orange County Consumer Fraud Office is to investigate consumer complaints and work to resolve them through mediation. The office also can issue citations, refer the complaint to other appropriate agencies and even press criminal charges against the egregious party.
Although many of these contractors are just too lazy and cheap to get their licenses, some are real criminals who will take your money without doing the work and even steal your property. These are organized criminals who canvas neighborhoods and business areas to lure you in with cheap prices.
Although fraud may not adhere to geographical boundaries, the good news is that specific Florida laws protect property owners from incompetent or dishonest contractors. The state-licensing process tests basic competency and also screens out dishonest contractors. A valid license is the first indication your contractor may be qualified to do the job.
For more information on the Orange County Consumer Fraud Office and how you can protect yourself from fraud, visit orangecountyfl.net, call (407) 836-2490 or 311 or email [email protected]
The home repair/construction complaint form also can be found at ocfl.net/fraud. You can report unlicensed contractors by calling (407) 836-5960.
HOW TO HIRE A CONTRACTOR
• Avoid door-to-door solicitors.
• Insist on references, a proper license, bonding and insurance.
• Check out credentials.
• Make sure the contract can be broken if you don’t receive financing.
• Hire a contractor with a real office, not just a post office box address.
Source: Orange County Consumer Fraud Office