The stereotypical unlicensed contractor – unmarked truck, works after hours or on weekends and really likes to be paid in cash – is not today’s typical unlicensed contractor. Creepy people don’t always look creepy and are not always strangers. If you are a licensed contractor, you should know the nearest unlicensed contractor might just be the person staring back at you in the mirror.
More and more, licensed contractors are, wittingly or not, engaging in unlicensed work. Sometimes it’s obvious: it’s the handyman that was too handy with some pipes, or a roofer tweaking electrical wires for a generously discounted price. Sometimes it’s not.
For example, unlicensed contracting can also be a commercial remodeling job that requires the removal of tacky popcorn ceilings because there’s a good chance those popcorn ceilings have asbestos in them and that requires a special license to remove it.
Similarly, and even with a general contractor’s license that lets you contract for any work under the Ch. 489 sun, some folks forget performance of certain trades still has to be subcontracted out, like HVAC, mechanical, electrical, roofing, etc.
Sometimes, it is simply forgetting to make sure your subcontractor is licensed. If the work at issue required a license, the all too common failure to verify licensure may be the kiss of death that turns you into an unlicensed toad. If any of this is you, you might get an invite to the Unlicensed Club.
So what is the big deal? Plenty and more than just the potential cash-sucking-beam of a civil lawsuit and disgorgement penalties. Whether you recently read all the rules you were presumed to know, or were just undone by a disingenuously disgruntled customer or surprise city inspection, you could face a double barreled prosecution shotgun: an administrative barrel aiming at your existing license and a criminal barrel aimed at the unlicensed work.
Don’t assume prosecution occurs only at the state level. The Department of Justice sometimes gets in on the action, too. Just ask the Tampa developer indicted on 8 counts for illegal asbestos removal; his trial opens in a Tampa federal courthouse this Fall 2016. What did he allegedly do and what federal penalties could he face? Tune in for the upcoming: Big Time Contractors/Developers: Top 5 Ways to Score a Big Time Federal Indictment.
Until then, know the scope of your license (and your sub’s) and stay in it. And if you think you didn’t, grab some Pepto-Bismol and call your attorney.