Last summer, officials in Broward and Palm Beach Counties launched a sting to target unlicensed contractors in South Florida.
The undercover operation involved dozens of agencies luring dozens of individuals with a history of unlicensed contract work to a home in Cooper City. Much like a prostitution sting, the individuals would agree to conduct certain work that by law requires a state license. In some cases, the individuals admitted to the would-be buyers that they had no license.
Our West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyers can’t say for sure whether authorities are planning any similar stings, but we do know that there have been at least a dozen of these operations over the last three years, and we inevitably see a spike in unlicensed contractor arrests during hurricane season.
Per Florida Statute 489.127, a conviction for a first-time unlicensed contracting offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $1,000 fine. However, a second or subsequent offense for unlicensed contracting is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
Additionally, a person who commits such a violation during a time frame in which the governor has declared by executive order a state of emergency will face a third-degree felony charge, regardless of whether they have been convicted of any similar prior offenses.
Some individuals arrested for unlicensed contracting may not even realize they are breaking the law. In some cases, they may be simply trying to make a few bucks doing odd jobs in the neighborhood.
You can’t skirt the law by requesting compensation in the form of something other than money. The state defines a contractor as any person who demolishes, subtracts from, improves or builds any building or structure for compensation. That compensation could be cash, but it could also be in the form of other goods and services.
According to the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, here are the jobs for which you need to be licensed if you expect to receive compensation:
–Sunroom or garage construction;
–Hot-water heater replacement;
–Air conditioning installation;
–Central air and heat duct cleaning;
–Repair or replacement of swimming pool pumps;
–Construction of a barn, detached garage or metal building;
–Home remodel that requires replacement or alteration of load-bearing walls;
–Drywall installation or replacement if that work will include work on the load-bearing part of the wall, electrical, air-conditioning or plumbing work.
However, there are jobs for which you DON’T need a contracting license. According to state law, those include:
–Installation of tile walkways, pavers or driveway;
–Installation of water filter onto a faucet;
–Insertion of an air conditioning window unit;
–Installation of awnings that are not a fixed part of the structure;
–Swimming pool cleaning or installation of an above-ground pool;
–Installation of a prefabricated tool shed that is smaller than 250 square feet (or up to 400 square feet with county approval);
–Installation of cabinets, tile or wood flooring and insulation.
If you are charged with unlicensed contracting in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
Unlicensed contractor arrested on fraud, theft charges, Feb. 26, 2013, By Terri Parker, WPBF ABC News 25
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