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Recognizing the Heroes of Irma – and Avoiding the Pitfalls of Unlicensed Commercial Contractors

Unlicensed Contractors Commercial Construction

We want to send a huge “Thank You” to all restoration personnel, and from linemen to tree clearing specialists. Contrary to much of the bad press, our personal experience with FP&L was great, even though our office power was out for 5 days. Once their rep visited our area to coordinate, repairs were completed as promised and swiftly. These men and women are helping our communities and businesses recover from one of the largest areas of catastrophic hurricane damage ever. Some of them leave their homes and families for weeks or months. Keep that in mind when they’re restoring landscaping, traffic lights, street signs and picking up debris off the street.

At the same time we also want to stress a “Buyer Beware” warning for unethical and predatory contractors coming into the area. From price gouging to requesting huge upfront deposits, you need a South Florida commercial contractor you feel you can rely on and genuinely trust to get your project completed. 

During this time, the perceived benefits of hiring an unlicensed contractor can be tempting. Demand for repairs and renovations is up, making the supply of licensed workers limited. Who doesn’t want to pay the lowest price possible? But commercial construction in South Florida is a different animal. Virtually all commercial construction work requires a license, hiring an unlicensed contractor exposes the developer or property owner to potential significant financial and legal risks. Unlicensed = uninsurable. Results may include claims from an injured party, a building code violation fine or an increase in project costs to retrofit or repair shoddy work that insurance may not cover. One of the first moves by any seasoned lawyer or insurance company will be to check everyone’s license.

Who Are You Inviting to Your Commercial Construction Project?

If you plan to invite commercial contractors to bid on a project, make sure you know everything about the company and ownership. The Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board, which is part of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), is responsible for licensing and regulating the construction industry. Anyone can go online and check the licensing status of any commercial contractor in Florida. The website also provides information associated with any complaints or disciplinary proceedings associated with a contractor.

The Legal Impacts of Using Unlicensed Contractors

In Florida, unlicensed contracting is a serious crime carrying misdemeanor or felony penalties, depending on the number of prior convictions. There are nine different ways to commit a crime of unlicensed contracting in Florida. Proof of any one violation is sufficient to sustain a conviction. Here are a few legal ramifications of working without a license, or hiring an unlicensed contractor:

  • If an unlicensed contractor represents their company as licensed, they’re breaking Florida law.
  • If they begin work without a permit, they’re breaking the same law and can receive a misdemeanor, a $1,000 fine and up to a year’s time in jail or probation for a first offense, and later offenses increase the penalties five-fold with a felony charge.
  • Though the contractor will be court ordered to pay restitution, it’s questionable whether you would see any of that money. But the situation gets worse from there.
  • If you knowingly hire an unlicensed construction firm, you may face legal consequences including fines.
  • If an unlicensed contractor does work for you and you sell the structure later on, work that was done without a permit may have to be removed.
  • If it’s discovered that an unlicensed contractor is working on your project, you’ll receive a cease and desist notice, delaying your project as the work stops and potentially resulting in a fine of up to $5,000.
  • If there is an accident or damage on your property, you’ll be held responsible for damages, as the contractor will almost certainly not have insurance coverage.
  • If the work completed does not meet codes, you’ll need to hire a licensed contractor to fix the problem, so it’s probable you’d lose any savings you’d hope for from hiring an unlicensed contractor.

However, there are a few exemptions to the licensing law in Florida. Contractors doing DOT work, an employee who falls under their employer’s certificate, a government employee performing work under $200,000, an officer appointed under a court order, public utility employees, installation of finished products or property owners serving as their own contractor in some circumstances may fall under exemptions under Florida Code Chapter 489.103. Because these exemptions are very specific, you may want to consult with an attorney or the Attorney General’s office if you think a contractor is claiming to be exempt but do not meet the legal requirements.

GSD Contracting Only Works with Licensed Contractors

GSD Contracting has been a trusted partner in South Florida for nearly 40 years assisting every type of client from big box retail to small business offices. We are here for you! If your business was affected by Hurricane Irma, or is in need of building renovations, please contact us to request our most recent A305 qualification statement.

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