Verify professional licenses before hiring contractors

As Florida enters hurricane season, it’s a good time to be reminded about the importance of working only with licensed contractors and construction professionals on all commercial and residential projects. Whether building a new office space or replacing a roof, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) encourages Floridians to verify the professional licenses of anyone you hire to work on your property.

Too many Florida residents over the years have been convinced by fast-talking contractors that they are fully qualified to perform the work and can even offer a discounted price for their services. The simple truth is that no matter what it says on a business card or how nice their work truck looks, the only way to ensure you are dealing with a licensed construction professional is to verify their license with the DBPR.

Hiring a licensed professional is not just a good idea because it protects you as a consumer, it is also the law. There are many facets of a construction project that require that the work be done by someone who has proven to the state of Florida that they have the necessary expertise and experience. When a person in the construction industry is not willing to play by the rules and obtain a Florida license, it should raise a red flag for several reasons.

An unlicensed individual typically does not have the education, insurance or qualifications required of a licensee and therefore present a higher risk to you. They might also have a criminal background that may include fraud, theft, violent crime, sexual offenses and substance abuse, which would prevent them from doing the work legally.

When using a licensed contractor, there are avenues for resolving conflicts over the unfulfilled or disputed contracts through the DBPR, which has the authority to discipline and even revoke the license. This gives the licensee more incentive to play fair. However this type of action is not available against unlicensed contractors, and homeowners often find the only solution is an expensive, and generally futile, civil suit.

If you use an unlicensed contractor, you may end up being liable for personal or financial injuries to others, because an unlicensed contractor typically is uninsured and may have no way to pay you back for any property damage. And do not count on your homeowner’s policy to pick up the slack; most homeowner policies require that work be done by a licensed contractor and provide coverage for work that is not.

Another all-too-common risk is that unlicensed persons often disappear after taking your money, and the DBPR cannot discipline an unlicensed person, help get your money back or require the person to finish or improve the work done. Unfortunately, scams in the construction industry, especially home improvement, are widespread. Con artists pose as contractors, often target vulnerable people and take advantage of homeowners’ needs for urgent post-hurricane property damage repairs.

The Department of Business and Professional regulation’s mission is to license efficiently and regulate fairly. The department licenses and regulates more than one million businesses and professionals ranging from hotels and restaurants, real estate agents and certified public accountant to veterinarians, contractors and cosmetologists.

Helpful tips:
• Ask to see the contractor’s license. The license should be issued from Okeechobee County or the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The license will have the contractor’s name, license number, address and specialty.
• Ask for copies of the contractor’s general liability and workers’ compensation insurance policies.
• Ask for a written estimate from several licensed contractors. License numbers are required to be printed on the estimate and/or invoice.
• Make sure that the entire scope of work for the job is written and detailed in the contract.
• Most jobs require a building permit. For a complete list of work that requires a permit, contact Okeechobee County Community Development at 863-763-5548.
• Ask for references.
• Keep copies of contracts, cancelled checks, receipts, and photos of the work.
• A Business Tax Receipt is not a license to perform contracting work.
• Avoid solicitation from contractors on social media.
• If you have any concerns, contact the Okeechobee County Building Department at 863-763-5548.

Before entering into a contract or working with a professional, ask to see their license or license number and verify it at www.myforidalicense.com or on the free DBPR mobile app available on iTunes and Google Play. It is also a smart idea to ask friends and family for recommendations. If you encounter unlicensed activity, you are encouraged to report it by calling the unlicensed activity hotline at 1-866-532-1440, using the mobile app or filing a complaint at www.myfloridalicense.com. You can also contact the Okeechobee County Building Department at 863-763-5548.

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