Unlicensed Contracting Charges

A local man was recently arrested in Sarasota County on 43 felony counts of unlicensed contracting. With the economy seemingly on the mend and the construction trades ramping back up, it is highly likely that local law enforcement is going to bring back the unlicensed contractor stings.

Unlicensed contractor stings are operated in a similar manner to the internet sex stings. The same “bait-and-switch” tactics are used by Law enforcement in unlicensed contracting, too. And in some cases it is much easier for law enforcement to prove unlicensed contracting than it is to prove the sex sting cases.

Law enforcement agencies will place ads on Craigslist.com that requests remodel or repair work that does not call for a construction license (like dry wall, painting, or minor repairs). The unsuspecting handyman will make contact thinking the job is just what it says it is: minor repairs. The potential customer (undercover law enforcement) will discuss the job with the handyman. Throughout the course of the contact, however, the job will morph into a bigger project. The potential profit for the handyman increases, but so does the scope of work. The scope of work, invariably, will now include work that requires a contracting license (whether it be for HVAC, plumbing, electrical or otherwise). The hook has already been set, and the handyman is being reeled toward the boat.

If you have been accused of unlicensed contracting in Florida, call me, Michael Fayard, at (941) 306-1310. I can help.

The handyman provides a bid, and shows up thinking s/he is to have a great payday. Not so much. The person that answers the door is law enforcement, and not the sweet old lady with lots of cash for a remodel. Depending on the handyman’s prior criminal history, the charges range from first degree misdemeanors to third degree felonies.

Section 489 of the Florida Statutes, which is titled as Construction Contracting, deals with most of the construction statutes. Although there are other sections of the code that relate to contracting (see Construction Liens set forth in Sections 713.001 – 713.37, Florida Statutes).

So what is unlicensed contracting? Section 487.127, Florida Statutes, which is titled: 
Prohibitions; Penalties, sets forth most of the prohibited conduct related to unlicensed contracting in Florida.

489.127 can be viewed in different parts. The first part deals with pretending to have a valid license. For instance, falsely holding yourself out as a licensed business, impersonating as licensed contractor, presenting the license of another as your own, knowingly giving false or forged evidence to a board or member of the board, or attempting to use a suspended or revoked license can qualify as a crime.

The next part of 489.127 deals with more advertising, but also goes further with actual construction work. If someone engages in the business, acts in the capacity of a contractor, or advertises themselves as available to engage in contracting without a license has committed a crime. Again, simply advertising that you are a licensed contractor can create potential criminal liability. Additionally, if work that requires a building permit is commenced without a permit then the contractor can be criminally liable. (note: there is some disagreement between the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (“DBPR”), the licensing board overseeing Florida Contractors, and some law enforcement as to whether this subsection applies to licensed contractors or just unlicensed contractors.)

Finally there is the catch-all provisions, which makes it a crime to willfully or deliberately disregard or violate any municipal or county ordinance relating to uncertified or unregistered contractors.

So what are the ramifications of violating 489.127? An arrest for unlicensed contracting can result in a conviction of either a felony or a misdemeanor depending on whether the accused has a previous conviction for unlicensed contracting. A first degree misdemeanor of this kind can result in a maximum penalty of “11/29” (11 months and 29 days in county jail), or a year of probation (or any combination of jail and probation not to exceed one year) in addition to fines, penalties, and court costs. The third degree felony can result in five years of state prison or five years of probation (or any combination of prison and probation not to exceed five years) in addition to fines, penalties, and court costs.

As you can see, Florida takes unlicensed contracting seriously as evidenced from the first part of 489.127. Criminal liability can attach prior to the first hammer-swing.

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