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Months after paying a contractor about $20,000 to address leaking in a Hammock resident, the house’s owner discovered that the problems were still present.
The owner eventually learned that Cory Nolte, the contractor hired, was only licensed for drywall work, not for the window installations and electrical changes he had made to 23 Ocean Dunes Circle, said attorney Dennis Bayer.
In the end, that owner had to hire another contractor to redo the work. Nolte, of Cory Nolte Home Repair LLC, stood before Flagler County’s Contractor Review Board in September for possible unlicensed and unpermitted activity at the home. Last week, Bayer filed a lawsuit against the contractor.
“From a consumer’s perspective, unlicensed contractors are a definite concern,” Bayer said. “You’re paying for work to be done, and you expect it to be done well.”
Unlicensed contractors pose a risk to all parties involved, said Ramona Zavacky, Flagler County licensing manager, and, she said, they do work within the county every day.
If something goes wrong during an unlicensed job — such as the work being faulty or never done at all — seeking legal recourse is difficult if not impossible, Zavacky said. Breach of contract is seldom an option, because unlicensed contractors often skip construction contracts, she said.
Since contractors can’t pull permits for jobs they are not licensed for, those working without licenses often get around this by having homeowners pull the permits themselves, said Jay Maher, Palm Coast licensing supervisor. To do this, homeowners must sign a waiver that places responsibility for any substandard work done by unlicensed contractors on them rather than on the city, so if something goes wrong, little can be done.
Related to contractors working without licenses are jobs done without permits, said Eric Phillips, secretary and treasurer for the institution and owner of Phillips Coastal Construction. Palm Coast requires permits for most work, and without them, work doesn’t undergo inspections, Phillips said.
And contractors working without licenses or permits do not just impact homeowners. Working without a license eliminates the overhead costs of education and testing, permitting and insurance, Maher said, so unlicensed contractors are able to offer lower bids than licensed contractors can.
Ed Corcoran owns Complete Lawn and Landscape Service. He and other licensed contractors charge $20-25 to cut a lawn. An unlicensed contractor charges $12-15 because they don’t have the expenses from paying for liability insurance and for permits.
Most jobs Corcoran might do — such as laying sod or cutting down a tree — require permits, which cost money. Unlicensed contractors aren’t able to pull permits, and they face little consequence for failing to do so, Corcoran said.
“If you get caught doing work without a permit, (officials) will just tell you to go pull a permit,” Corcoran said. “So I can understand it. Why should I go down there and pay for the privilege of laying sod when there’s no consequence if I don’t?”
Both Palm Coast and Flagler County search for unlicensed contractors. Maher travels the city asking for permits and sends violators either to the local or state code enforcement boards, depending on severity of the infraction.
But often, Corcoran said, contractors are able to get in and out of a job so quickly, catching them is impossible. He said local governments’ methods of policing are ineffective because getting caught is rare and brings little repercussion.
Education is key to solving the problem, Zavacky said. Homeowners need to know to ask to see proper licensing for any work done — and should understand that a business tax receipt is not the same thing as a license. She also warned of people who go door-to-door commissioning work; legitimate businesses usually don’t advertise that way.
That sentiment is shared among others in the local construction industry. The Flagler Home Builders Association also sponsors education efforts, Phillips said. The Palm Coast building department also tries to educate homeowners, especially when residents come to the city to pull their own permits.
“It’s very prevalent, and it’s a high-priority issue,” Zavacky said.