St. George area sting operation nets 12 unlicensed contractors

ST. GEORGE – State officials announced last week that a sting operation against unlicensed contractors in Washington and Davis counties resulted in 22 citations, 12 of which were issued in the St. George area.

The Sting

Francine A. Giani, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce and the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing announced on Wednesday, Sept. 19, that Division investigators successfully concluded a week long sting investigation in Davis and Washington counties as part of the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies. In addition to Utah’s investigation, licensing agencies in Arizona, California, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, and South Carolina also conducted sting operations to target unlicensed contractor activity.

“When homeowners want something fixed or upgraded, they are quick to compare prices but not quick to check to see if someone is licensed through the state,”  Giani said. “Do yourself a favor and take five minutes to check them out at www.dopl.utah.gov where you can verify, online, anytime.”

During the week long operation, DOPL investigators set up decoy homes needing repair in St. George and Fruit Heights, Utah and then responded to internet ads by those advertising contracting services for repair and renovation bids on internet bulletin boards and online classified ads. Once investigators received bids from respondents, they were cited for unlicensed activity and given information on the process for gaining licensure through DOPL in Utah.

Of the citations issued, 12 were at the sting location in St. George.

Some citation examples include the following:

  • Individual with a Handyman Exemption showed up to bid a job for $5,453 which exceeded the state’s Handyman Exemption limit of $3.000 total for labor and materials.
  • Unlicensed individual advertising as a landscaper offered to complete front and rear landscaping, hot tub removal, tree removal, new grass, and new sprinkler system within a $10,000 budget.
  • Unlicensed individual gave a bid to tile both upper decks for $1,000.00 in materials and $1,850 in labor. He also bid wood floors for upper floor for $9,000 in materials (engineered wood flooring) and $3,275 in labor.

“Based on the numerous high-ticket bids received by our decoy homeowners, the public needs to make sure they work with licensed professionals to ensure your rights are protected under state law if the deal goes south,” said Mark Steinagel, DOPL Division Director. “Otherwise you may end up paying twice for the same job when the phony contractor fails to deliver.”

Consequences and rights when using an unlicensed contractor 

In an email reply to St. George News inquiries, Jennifer Bolton, public information officer for the Utah Department of Commerce, said someone who unknowingly hires an unlicensed contractor would not be cited by the state.

If the consumer experiences negative consequences he would have cause to file a lawsuit, according to Steinagel, also in a reply email to St. George News. “A consumer can generally maintain a cause of action against an unlicensed individual,” he said, “though I would recommend (seeking) legal advice to address case specific issues.”

License requirement and consequence to a contractor performing without a license

Utah law provides:

A contractor or alarm business or company may not act as agent or commence or maintain any action in any court of the state for collection of compensation for performing any act for which a license is required by this chapter without alleging and proving that the licensed contractor or alarm business or company was appropriately licensed when the contract sued upon was entered into, and when the alleged cause of action arose.

An unlicensed contractor cannot sue for payment of services rendered unless the individual can prove he or she had an appropriate, state-recognized license when the contract was originally entered into.

Should the consequences of an unlicensed contractor’s work go beyond a simple citation – for instance, when an unlicensed electrician’s work may result in an electrical fire leading to loss of life and property – Bolton said, “There are a variety of administrative actions DOPL could take against an unlicensed contractor depending on their actions – if the case rose to criminal charges, DOPL would have the case screened through our law enforcement partners at the state, city or county level depending on the location where it took place.”

Copies of the individual/business citations can be found here.

Advice for Consumers on Choosing a licensed Contractor

Consumers should be aware that internet bulletin boards and online classified ads may invite deceptive business opportunities. The following tips offer steps to take when seeking a bid for contracting work and how to protect the public from contractor fraud:

  • Verify the contractor or business is actively licensed with the state of Utah at www.dopl.utah.gov.
  • Always hire a licensed contractor so you have the ability to file a complaint if something goes wrong in the business transaction.
  • Get 3 written estimates to compare.
  • Check at least 3 references with former customers.
  • Check with materials suppliers on which contractors/companies they would recommend.
  • Require a written contract to protect yourself and your property against liens.
  • Don’t make a large down payment; pay as work is completed.
  • Monitor the job in progress.
  • Don’t make the final payment until the job is complete per the terms of your contract.
  • Keep copies of all paperwork related to your job.

Resources

For more information please visit the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing’s website at www.dopl.utah.gov.

More consumer information is also available the Utah Division of Consumer Protection’s website at www.dcp.utah.gov.

For more information the National Association of Contracting Licensing Agencies, log onto www.nascla.org.

 

Email: jkuzmanic@stgnews.com

Twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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4 Comments

  • Murat September 25, 2012 at 7:15 am

    “The Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing is working hard to ensure that residents of this great state are hustled only by licensed professionals. Individuals caught in this sting are encouraged to make restitution and apply for licensing. At that point they can fleece their customers ’til the cows come home.”

  • Kelli September 25, 2012 at 7:30 am

    Hm, not as exciting as catching hookers and drug dealers, but it’ll work. Nicely done!

  • Jim Roberts September 26, 2012 at 4:17 am

    All the homeowner has to do is ask to see the building permit. If a contractor is not licensed, he cannot get a permit.

  • Jim Roberts September 26, 2012 at 4:19 am

    If the homeowner asked to see the building permit that would solve the issue. An unlicensed contractor cannot pull a permit.

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