Saturday, November 20, 2010

Unlicensed building contractors in Manatee are facing jail time

Unlicensed building contractors in Manatee are facing jail time after a recent statewide undercover sting. Unlicensed contract work has become a serious problem over the last couple years as many homeowners think they are saving money by using the lowest bidder.

The following article is from

Sting targets unlicensed contractorsBy NATALIE NEYSA ALUND
Nine reputed unlicensed building contractors are facing jail time after a recent statewide undercover sting, Manatee County officials announced Monday.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation conducted a joint operation in which they received job proposals for construction work that required a contractor’s license.

The nine suspects cited with misdemeanor charges last week did not have the required licenses, according to county officials. They are Dale Belden of Bradenton; Harlan Hillenbrand of Sarasota; Peter Hillenbrand of Sarasota; Scott Rosa of North Port; Herbert Prince of Bradenton; Michael J. Ford of North Port; Dan Richards of Venice; Ahmet Ajkic of Sarasota; and Ronald L. Sommers of Sarasota.

Some of the suspects’ phone numbers had been disconnected on Monday. The rest of them declined comment or could not be reached for comment.
Authorities with DBPR said they instructed all nine men to stop work through cease and desist orders issued on Feb. 23 and 24.
A Manatee County Courthouse clerk said the suspects are scheduled to appear for arraignment later this month.

Under state law, contracting without a license is a first-degree misdemeanor and carries a maximum jail sentence of one year and a $1,000 fine, if convicted.

Unlicensed contract work has become a serious problem during the current economic downturn as many homeowners turn to the least expensive option available, said John Barnott, interim director of the county building department.

“We will continue to crack down, not only with the contractors but with the property owners who knowingly hire them,” Barnott said. “I want to send a clear message to all the unlicensed activity going on out there: We’re coming after you.”

According to a sheriff’s media release, on Feb. 19, sheriff’s Detective Dawn Atkinson and two DBPR investigators posed as project managers for a property in need of repairs in the 4400 block of 37th Street East, Bradenton.

Authorities solicited bids after they said they had already determined the men were not properly licensed to complete the needed work, including plumbing and electrical work.

The suspects were found in newspaper advertisements or on the Internet. Of 25 contractors targeted, 15 of them showed up to bid jobs at the site,
Thinking they were selected for the job, they were called back to the site to start work. Instead, they were cited and ordered to appear in court.
David Windham, president of David Windham Construction Inc. in Bradenton, said contractors are required to be licensed primarily for safety concerns.
“Unlicensed contractors may not have the education or background to understand how to do a job, therefore leaving the customer with potentially unsafe conditions structurally,” said Windham, who has owned his company for 28 years. “It puts the customer and others at risk.”
Using an unlicensed contractor, Windham added, can also affect someone financially.

“They are putting themselves in a vulnerable position because there are no checks and balances to be sure that the contractor is going to do what the contractor has agreed to do,” Windham said. “With a licensed system in place, the contractor is obligated to complete the work in the agreed upon manner.”

In addition to safety for customers and others it’s critical that workers be properly covered with insurance, Windham said.
“For instance, some of the workers may be unknowingly unprotected if they work for an unlicensed contractor,” he said. “There are OSHA safety standards the law requires for workers including wearing safety belts and hard hats.”

Gulf Coast Builders Exchange Executive Director Mary Dougherty-Slapp said she hopes state and local officials keep the pressure on unlicensed contractors.

“It needs to happen more,” said Dougherty-Slapp, who overseas the non-profit corporation that she said deals mostly with commercial projects. “It not only hurts legitimate contractors who are licensed and doing business, it harms the homeowner and they end up paying more to have someone come in and fix (things).”

Homeowners can obtain a list of licensed contractors from the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, the Home Builders Association of Manatee County, the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce or the Manatee County Building Department.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

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