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West Virginia - Beware of Unlicensed Contractor
Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Officials warn: Unlicensed contractors risky business
“Home owners are exposed to a lot of risk if they chose to go with an unlicensed contractor,” Steele said. “They don’t have any liability insurance, don’t pay workers compensation and if there’s no permit in the first place, there is no where we can go to help the home owner seek recourse if they get shoddy work. A home owner should look at a license as a guarantee that the work will be held to a set of standards. If you have a reputable contractor, you can check out there references and know what they should expect.

Officials warn: Unlicensed contractors risky business

By Bill Archer
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — When the snow melts and the spring sun starts spreading its warmth throughout the region, many home-owners start thinking about making repairs to their homes. While do-it-yourselfers can tackle projects that are square with city codes and ones they are qualified to perform, Bluefield officials urged that city residents use caution when selecting a contractor to perform work.

“The city requires that any contractor who performs work in the city to be licensed,” Gerald Steele said. Steele is the city’s building inspector. “The state allows contractors who do jobs of $2,500 or below to work without a license, but from there on up, the state requires a license too.”

Steele said it makes good sense to work with established and properly licensed contractors. “We know that during the construction season, there is a lot of evening and weekend work that goes on and we just don’t have the manpower to get out to every job site in the city and check for licenses and permits,” Steele said. “There really is a reason for requiring licenses and permits — for safety and for quality of work,” Steele said.

“A home is such an important investment that it really doesn’t make sense to cut corners on major home repairs,” Steele said. “Since we don’t have the personnel to be in all parts of the city at all time, some unlicensed jobs slip through the cracks. When we catch (contractors) working without licenses and permits, we have issued fines.”

Steele said that “homeowners are ultimately responsible for the building permits, but more than half of the time, the contractor will pick that up when they are going over the engineering review with city inspectors. Steele said the city has tried to “make the licensing and permitting process as simple as possible.” The cost of a building permit varies depending on the size of the job starting with a $12.50 charge for the first $1,000, and $10 per each $1,000 up to $10,000. The per thousand charge drops to $7.50 per $1,000 over $10,000 and drops even more for bigger jobs.

“Home owners are exposed to a lot of risk if they chose to go with an unlicensed contractor,” Steele said. “They don’t have any liability insurance, don’t pay workers compensation and if there’s no permit in the first place, there is no where we can go to help the home owner seek recourse if they get shoddy work. A home owner should look at a license as a guarantee that the work will be held to a set of standards. If you have a reputable contractor, you can check out there references and know what they should expect.

“There is a lot to be said for being honest and doing the right thing on the part of the contractor and the customer,” Steele said. “Saving a few dollars isn’t worth it. You get what you pay for so it’s best to stay with honest people who have the proper licenses, will do what they say they will do, are honest and provide references to back that up.”

Steele said that if city residents suspect improper work is being done, “call us and we’ll investigate all of them. We don’t always catch them, but we do investigate all reports,” he said.

Ron Crabtree of the Bluefield board of directors said the board is working to develop a standardized fining procedure for individuals who violate the city code. “You have to do it,” Crabtree said. “There is an awful lot of work being done here by contractors who don’t have the proper licenses. I know that attaching standard fining procedures to violators is going to be a hard thing to do because for a lot of people, it’s a money issue.”

Crabtree said by way of example that when a licensed arborist bids a tree-removal job for $1,000 and an unlicensed individual comes along and offers to do the job for $200, many residents who live on a fixed income may opt for the less expensive job even though a contractor with no license and no insurance is putting the home owner at a greater risk potential.

“A lot of people are just not educated about that risk,” Crabtree said. “We’re trying as a board to get a better handle about the people who come into the city and do contract work. Ultimately, the license is the responsibility of the home owner.”

Chuck McGonagle has been a licensed contractor in Bluefield for many years. He said that maintaining a license, getting the proper permits and paying workers compensation is all a part of being a responsible contractor.

“We do a lot of small jobs for elderly citizens that some contractors wouldn’t even touch, but we live here in the community and we try to help people,” McGonagle said. “It is more expensive to pay the appropriate fees and maintain the level of insurance that protects the customers and our company, but that’s just a part of doing business.”

— Contact Bill Archer at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

http://www.bdtonline.com/local/local_story_077213222.html

 
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