Cracking Down on Unlicensed Contractors

NBC 6 Responds gets exclusive access to undercover operation

If you’re hiring someone to do work on your home, do you take the time to check if they are licensed? Miami-Dade County says you should, especially since they say unlicensed contractors are a big problem in our area.

The problem is so prevalent that a few times a year, they join forces with Miami-Dade Police, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and other agencies to do unlicensed contractor stings.

NBC 6 Responds positioned several hidden cameras inside a vacant home, to capture what police described as a steady stream of unlicensed contractors. Two undercover police officers posed as homeowners looking to remodel the house.

"They’re taking a look at what the potential project is, in the hopes that the person will make an offer to perform the work," Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Leo Fuentes told us.

Police said one man offered to install an outside air conditioning unit for $1,000, while another one offered to remodel the entire house for $20,000. Our cameras captured yet another man measuring a room and jotting down notes. Police said he offered to put up drywall at the house for $2,000 to $3,000. None of the men, police told us, was licensed to do the work.

Daniel Vuelta heads the contractor investigation division of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources. He pointed out license numbers printed on several of the work vans the men drove. Vuelta says those aren’t real license numbers to be able to do the jobs advertised. He singled out one license number on the side of an A/C repair van, which he said was a business tax license and not a contractor license.

"If it was a Dade County license number, it would have a prefix of the year the license was issued, so it would say 17 and then M for 'mechanical contractor' and then the license number would follow," Vuelta said. "If it were a state licensed contractor, it would say CAC for 'certified air conditioning contractor’ and then the license number would follow."

We noticed one man police arrested in the sting was wearing a shirt that said "contractor." When we asked him if he was a contractor, he said he wasn’t and that he was just trying to make a living. He also did not explain why his shirt said "contractor" on it. Police later charged him for not having a license – a misdemeanor – which could lead to a year in jail, probation or a $1,000 fine.

Twenty-two people were arrested in the two-day sting, but authorities said they’re always on the lookout for unlicensed contractors.

Vuelta said consumers should think twice before hiring an unlicensed contractor, even though they may think they’re getting a great deal.

"At the end of the day, you may not and It’ll be a bigger problem than you thought of," Vuelta said.

An unlicensed contractor might do shoddy, substandard work or fail to get a permit for a project, leaving you to face fines later.

There is also a state fund available to help people recover some of their losses if things go wrong with a contractor. But if you used a contractor who is not licensed, you won’t qualify for that help.

To check if a contractor is licensed with the state, you can click here.

In Miami-Dade county, you can verify a contractor license by clicking here

If you’d like to speak with someone directly at Miami-Dade’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, you can reach them directly at 786-315-2561.

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