Contractors Board Goes Undercover to Sting Unlicensed Operators in Santa Cruz County
Operation targets unlicensed contractors, and those with suspended and revoked licenses
APTOS — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is urging consumers to be aware of problems that come with hiring an unlicensed contractor or a contractor whose license has either been suspended or revoked, following a successful undercover sting operation in Aptos. CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), in cooperation with the Santa Cruz County District Attorney's Office and Department of Insurance, conducted the sting yesterday.
For the undercover operation, SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners to solicit bids from those suspected of operating as contractors without a license or with a license that has been suspended or revoked. Leads came from complaints, advertisements, referrals from local law enforcement agencies and complaints from the Santa Cruz County Building Department.
SWIFT investigators received bids for jobs ranging from painting and replacing a deck to replacing wall heaters. By law, all contractors in California who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. A total of 14 people were stung. 13 were working without a license or with a revoked license and given Notices to Appear before a Santa Cruz County Superior Court judge to answer misdemeanor charges. Those violators could face a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for the first offense. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence. Seven were also given Non-Licensed Citations for having illegal advertisements in phone books. They were ordered to disconnect their phones and pay a civil penalty of at least $200. One was given a Licensee Citation for working with a license that was suspended.
"Homeowners need to be aware that people who aren't licensed contractors are out there breaking the law," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "This operation highlights the importance of homeowners checking out a contractor with us before hiring them. Investing a few minutes could save them thousands of dollars and a lot of headaches."
The objective of undercover stings, which are conducted around the State, is to level the playing field for licensed contractors competing in the local business area, and to protect consumers from fraud and scam artists.
Another problem is that most unlicensed contractors don't pay taxes or carry workers' compensation insurance for their employees, so they're often able submit lower bids on jobs. "While that may sound like a good deal, if a worker is injured on the job, the homeowner could be liable," said Sands. "Plus, without a license, there's no way to know if the operator has any experience. And, if a deal goes bad, the homeowner has very few options."
Before hiring a contractor, homeowners should go online to www.cslb.ca.gov or call CSLB's automated phone system to see if a contractor has a valid license. They can also check out the contractor's license history and get bond and personnel information.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license and photo identification.
- Don't rush into decisions and don't hire the first contractor who comes along
- Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door, especially when they will use material they claim is left over from another job
- Verify the contractor's license by checking online or via CSLB's automated phone service at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less
- Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work
- Get three bids, check references, and get a written contract
- Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 292,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually.
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