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The city of Palm Coast issued an announcement last week, stating that an increase in unlicensed business activity has recently been reported in Flagler County. Staff warned residents to avoid using unlicensed businesses for contracting work — and, in Chamber of Commerce & Affiliates President Doug Baxter's mind, rightly so.
“It is important that the residents ask questions of businesses,” he said, noting that the chamber, city and county are available to confirm a company’s legitimacy. “We have issues with businesses that are not registered and don’t have insurance. And what they’re doing is they’re putting the residents at risk.”
In the past year, the chamber has fielded about a dozen inquiries from residents about whether a company they were considering working with was legitimate, Baxter added. But last month alone, about four of those requests came in.
Before hiring any contractor, the city advises that residents ask the contractor for a copy of their state license, and that the city’s building division (986-3780) is called to verify the license.
They also should confirm if the contract has workers compensation and liability insurance, Baxter said, which is necessary to perform any roofing jobs, home additions, heating and cooling work, plumbing, electrical or pool repairs.
“What if someone gets hurt on the job?” Baxter asked. “If they don’t have workman’s comp, they can sue you.”
The city also suggests contracts be drawn up, complete with the contractor’s name, address, number and licensing number, before any job is started.
According to County Administrator Craig Coffey, the city and county work together to enforce licensing issues. When a complaint is filed against a contractor, that contractor is brought before a county board for trial.
“There are tests associated with each and every license. It establishes a minimum baseline of efficiency and knowledge,” Coffey said. “(Without licenses), what often happens is the homeowner is left with a problem that they, then, have to pay to do again.”
But, for Baxter, this is not a new problem.
“I think it’s been a problem ever since I went into business 30 years ago,” he said. “But in the economic times we’ve been in, everybody’s looking for a deal. And an unlicensed contractor can do (work) cheaper.”
Combine not paying for insurance with working out of trucks and it’s also difficult for brick-and-mortar contractors to compete, Baxter added. But he can understand why people do it.
“They’re trying to make a living — bottom line,” he said. “You can’t blame people for (that). But you do want the consumer to be protected.”
To combat the trend, the chamber launched an initiative in June called the Customer Assurance Program, which puts the chamber on the line to help resolve any disputes raised against a company in the program.
Already, about 100 companies are signed on.
“Business owners want to let the customers know out there that they are a legitimate business,” he said. “But word of mouth is the best form of advertisement.”
SIDEBAR STORY: The warning signs
Some signs that a business may not be licensed are listed as follows:
• Unlicensed individuals often target the uninformed, inexperienced and elderly.
• They solicit door-to-door, frequently traveling in unmarked trucks and vans.
• They can provide work more cheaply than licensed contractors.
• Sometimes, they will provide a post office box instead of a physical address.
• They might attempt to convince you to obtain the building permit, instead of getting it themselves.
Warranties for items installed by an unlicensed contractor are not usually honored, either staff adds. Usually the only remedy for lost funds may be civil court.
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