Ensuring Your Contractor is Licensed
Engaging a contractor is not as simple as it may seem. Although contractors, in an attempt to make things appear simple, will provide a property owner, with a standard construction contract, most of these are written in terms that favor the contractor. Before signing, it is imperative to retain the services of an experienced construction law attorney, especially one having skill in drafting and negotiating construction contracts. This attorney will ensure that all matters are addressed, including some of the simpler items – such as whether the contractor is, in fact, licensed to conduct business. Recently, a number of Lee County residents found the contractor they hired to repair damage after Hurricane Irma was not licensed. A discussion of the licensing requirements of contractors in Florida, and some practical tips when entering into a construction contract, will follow below.
According to Florida law, all individuals or entities who provide construction services in this State must be licensed by the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board (CILB). Licensing is a matter of public record, and, as a result, anyone has the ability to check the licensure status of any contractor in Florida. Further, any complaints or disciplinary proceedings brought against a contractor are also available to the public, via the CILB.
It is important to note that any contract is unenforceable if entered into with an unlicensed contractor, if the contractor is unlicensed on either the effective date of the contract, or, if no effective date is given, then the date the last party executed the contract or the date any construction activity begins. Additionally, the law provides for the following penalties to unlicensed contractors:
- For the first offense, practicing as an unlicensed contractor is a criminal misdemeanor. For any second offense, the unauthorized practice is a felony, punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and five years in prison.
- Additionally, the unlicensed contractor will forfeit any lien and bond claim rights.
- If there is an injury to a consumer, the consumer may be able to assert a penalty of triple the actual damages against the unlicensed contractor.
There are two primary exemptions to this license requirement:
- A property owner, having a net worth of at least $20 million, who employs a general contractor for work done on the property owner’s own property; and
- A developer who sells completed residences on property that the developer initially owns, prior to selling to individuals.
Based on the cited article, it is important that not only should every property owner confirm that the contractor with whom he/she is engaging is, in fact, licensed, but that no property owner should assume a person or an entity is a properly licensed. Further, while the penalties cited above are severe, and may be able to help the property owner, the practical matter is that any enforcement of these penalties would still have to play out in a court of law, which would involve time, energy, and money. Having an experienced construction contract attorney draft and negotiate a construction contract on the property owner’s behalf will ensure that this issue, as well as a host of other potential challenges, will be adequately addressed, so that the property owner can avoid this situation.
Seek Legal Advice
If you are a property owner, and are curious how to ensure that the person holding him/herself out as a contractor is properly licensed and free of complaints, contact the experienced construction attorneys at Linkhorst & Hockin, P.A. as soon as possible. We have experience in drafting and negotiating construction contracts, and will do so on your behalf so that you can rest assured knowing that the contractor, and any subcontractors, are fully vetted and able to do the job you wish. Contact our Jupiter office today for a consultation of your situation.