Code Enforcement Spotlight: regarding contractors, take the attitude ‘buyers beware’

OKEECHOBEE — Hurricane season is right around the corner, and now is the time to be reminded about the importance of hiring licensed contractors and obtaining necessary building permits. Whether a new building is being constructed, a roof needs new shingles, or a structure requires its air-conditioning unit to be replaced, homeowners must always be aware of what work requires permits, a licensed contractor or both. Hiring a licensed professional is not just a good idea because it protects you as a consumer, it is also the law and violators could face criminal charges, jail time and fines.

Warning signs of an unlicensed contractor:

• If a large down payment is requested before the work begins, you might be at risk. Only partial payments (draws) should be made until the work is completed.

• If you are asked to pay in cash or make your check payable to an individual or “cash” instead of a company name.

• If verbal contracts are offered.

• The contractor is only willing to work on weekends or after hours.

• If they ask you, the homeowner, to obtain the permit. A licensed contractor in good standing will almost always obtain the permit.

• License numbers are not on their vehicles, business cards, contracts, fliers, etc.

• They travel in unmarked vehicles and solicit door to door.

• They provide you with a post office box instead of a street address.

• Someone else obtains the permit other than the person or company contracted to do the work.

• No record of the business on sunbiz.org.

• Solicitation of services on social media.

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, canceled checks, receipts, and photos of the work.

• Know the difference between a Business Tax Receipt number (which is not a license) and a contractor’s license number.

• Avoid solicitation from contractors on social media.

Don’t be a victim. Protect yourself.

Using unlicensed contractors can be hazardous to the health, safety and welfare of you and your family. Unlicensed contractors will often target uninformed and inexperienced homeowners, particularly elderly persons. Don’t let yourself be scammed!

Unlicensed and unpermitted work is against the law, and the homeowner may be liable for penalties from the county and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), as well as for personal or financial injuries to others. The DBPR can issue an order to stop construction and levy a $5,000 fine for aiding and abetting unlicensed contractors. Usually, the homeowner’s only recourse to recover from the unlicensed contractor is through civil court.

To verify a contractor’s license, or to file a complaint against a contractor, you can contact the State of Florida, Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) at 1-850-487-1395, or visit www.MyFloridaLicense.com

To report unlicensed activities, call toll free 1-866-532-14440. You can also contact Okeechobee County Community Development at (863) 763-5548 or visit co.okeechobee.fl.us.

Code enforcement has a vital role to play in keeping county buildings safe.

The Lake Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and now includes news from around the lake every Wednesday.

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