Ask the Contractor: Be sure to hire licensed contractors

Homeowners pay the price when they don’t rely on licensed help

Licensed Contractors bring an accountability and a way for the customer to have recourse when things go wrong. (Stock File)

Licensed Contractors bring an accountability and a way for the customer to have recourse when things go wrong. (Stock File)

Our neighbors recently hired an unlicensed contractor to remodel their bath. Now all I am hearing about are problems and the unlicensed guy wants all of his money and says he is going to sue. Please YCCA write a column on homeowners beware. Name Not Given.

Using unlicensed contractors is an issue in every state and right here in Yavapai County. The Arizona Registrar of Contractors’ licensing procedures are designed to weed out contractors that have a history of making false representations, abandoning jobs or doing shoddy work. Owners and general contractors can consider a license to be one indicator that a subcontractor will deliver a satisfactory product, particularly if it is coupled with a history of providing service without customer complaints.

Every state requires a written contract for improvements and in Arizona exceeding $1,000 requires a contract. If an unlicensed contractor does a remodel or other improvement for a consumer where the costs of the services and materials exceed the threshold amount of $999.99 in Arizona, and the work is sub-par and the homeowner withholds payment, an unlicensed contractor cannot lien or sue for payment. State legislatures enacted the statutes to protect the public.

In Arizona, it is a requirement to pass a state examination to become licensed and have pre-determined years of experience. This assures that the person doing contracting work has the minimally required training, education, and experience to perform as a licensed contractor and is aware of the standard of care and the accepted custom and practices in the construction industry.

Not everyone plays by the rules. Contractors in Arizona pay a tidy sum to play by the rules, which makes it hard for them to compete against those who don’t. Homeowners can pay the price when they fail to distinguish between the two. Once the unlicensed contractor is paid, there is no statutory (i.e., quick) way to force him to issue a refund. That obligation is for a court to decide. A complaint can be made through the Arizona ROC for all unlicensed issues where the unlicensed person collected more than $999.99. If there is poor work and the price paid was at this threshold or less, there is nothing to be done through the ROC as the unlicensed contractor performed work under than HandyMan Exemption for having a license.

What Are the Risks of Hiring an Unlicensed Contractor?

While an unlicensed contractor may provide you with a low price, there are many risks involved in dealing with one:

Unlicensed contractors cannot get permits, so their work is not inspected and may not be up to local code.

If an unlicensed contractor improperly installs an appliance, such as a water heater that explodes, your insurance will not cover it.

If an unlicensed contractor installs an appliance, such as a water heater, dishwasher, and so on, the product warranty may be voided.

How Do I Tell If My Contractor Is Unlicensed?

There are some signs that may suggest your contractor is unlicensed. They include:

The contractor asks for a large down payment before work begins and makes multiple requests for money in the early phases of construction.

The contractor says permits and inspections are not required or he asks you to obtain the permit.

The contractor gives a verbal contract only. He is not willing to put terms in writing.

The contractor does not have proof of insurance.

The contractor asks you to make checks payable to a person or “cash” rather than a company.

The contractor’s advertisements, vehicles, cards, and so on do not display a license number.

Protect yourself by asking about a contractor’s license before hiring him. Ask to see the license and his worker’s compensation and liability insurance.

It should be noted that the complaint resolution process offered by the Registrar can be extremely helpful. Because a contractor’s license is crucial to the health of its business, a complaint to the Registrar is often the speediest way to get the contractor’s attention and get a problem resolved.

Before you leap into a working relationship with a contractor, and particularly before you make any payment, take a careful look to make sure the contractor is licensed.

Arizona ARS 32-1164 and 1165:

It is a class 1 misdemeanor (0-6 months, maximum fine of $2,500) for a person not licensed as a contractor to: • Act in the capacity of a contractor; or • Advertise that he or she is able to perform any service or contract for compensation.

A person shall be fined not less than $1,000 for a first offense and not less than $2,000 for a second or subsequent offense.

EMAIL – FOLLOW-UP TO TRUDY: Hi, Sandy: I read with interest your article on rubber sink grids in your Courier column a while back. I meant to save the article, but somehow I lost it. Would it be possible to email me the article so I can find out where to get them? I would really appreciate it! Your column has been of great help at times and I love to read it! Thank you, Trudy C.

Trudy, if you read this – the email you gave me did not work. Please call and I will help you.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday morning at 7 a.m. on KQNA 1130 AM/99.9 FM or 95.5 FM or the web at kqna.com. Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry; meet your local community partners and so much more.