Dozens of citations issued following state building contractor sting operation

Published: Friday, Sept. 21 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

State investigators are cracking down on unlicensed contractors. (Shutterstock) State investigators are cracking down on unlicensed contractors. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — State investigators are cracking down on unlicensed contractors.

The state did a weeklong sting operation in Davis and Washington counties, advertising the need for repairs at two decoy houses, one in Fruit Heights and the other in St. George.

The online responses were mainly from unlicensed contractors.

"It is a violation of the law to advertise if you're an unlicensed contractor that you can do construction work," said David Furlong, chief investigator for Utah's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

Investigators set up appointments and had contractors come to the various locations.

"If they came out and they advertised that they could do construction work, and they provided a bid that they could do construction work for us and they were unlicensed, we issued citations on the spot," Furlong said.

They wrote 12 citations in St. George and nine in Fruit Heights. The first citation is a $500 fine. If the person get a second citation, it's a $1,000 fine. A third citation carries the penalty of a class A misdemeanor, Furlong said.

"It was a big success," he said of the sting. "I don't think we were surprised at the numbers (of contractors who responded to the ad). I think we were surprised at how easy it was to find them and to get them here."

Such stings protect licensed workers and better protect homeowners if something goes wrong, said Mark Steinagel, director of Utah's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing.

"Based on the numerous high-ticket bids received by our decoy homeowners, the public needs to make sure they work with licensed professionals to ensure your rights are protected under state law if the deal goes south," Steinagel said. "Otherwise you may end up paying twice for the same job when the phony contractor fails to deliver."

Contractors such as Christopher Stearman say they're glad the state is looking into the issue.

"I want people to be able to trust me," Stearman said.

He owns Express Handyman Services in Salt Lake County and is licensed with the Utah Department of Commerce. He's heard plenty of stories of unlicensed contractors messing up jobs.

"I get calls from people all the time who are trying to repair what a contractor started and couldn't finish, and the homeowner doesn't know enough to finish (the job)," Stearman said.

Unfortunately, that person could be out $5,000 to $10,000 by the time an unlicensed contractor is cited, Furlong said.

"When homeowners want something fixed or upgraded, they are quick to compare prices but not quick to check to see if someone is licensed through the state," cautioned Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce and the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. "Do yourself a favor and take five minutes to check them out at Utah's Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing."

Other tips for consumers when seeking a bid from contracting work include getting three written estimates to compare; requiring a written contract to protect themselves and their property against liens; not making a large down payment; monitoring the job in progress; keeping copies of all paperwork related to the job; and never making the final payment until the job is completed per terms of the contract.

More information is available on the Utah Division of Consumer Protection’s website at www.dcp.utah.gov.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

E-mail: acabrero@ksl.com, Twitter: ksl_alexcabrero

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