Are You Sure That Contractor You Hired Is Licensed?

Alex BarthetContracts, Litigation & Arbitration

Are you sure that contractor you hired is licensed?

  • Request the contractor’s license number and verify it
  • Obtain references from the contractor and check them out
  • Search the contractor’s name and the company’s name on Google
  • Get a copy of the certificate of insurance

You are excited about this construction project you are about to undertake and you should be. This is an exciting time – you are building something for your family or maybe it’s a commercial building. You have now found either through recommendations or online, some folks that you think are qualified to do the job.

This is where the hard work begins. You need to make sure that the folks that you’re talking to are licensed and insured. Many owners don’t understand that they could be talking to ‘contractors’ that aren’t in fact licensed in the state of Florida. Here is a list of what you need to do, and why and how to verify that the person you’re talking to is properly licensed and insured.

You need to make sure that they have a contractor’s license number

This should be on their business card, on any proposal that they give you, and on the side of their truck. That number should specifically correspond to the person with whom you are dealing, and not to another company or person. How do you verify that? Check that number and their name against the records on the Department of Business and Professional Regulation website. Put in that number and verify if the person you’re talking to or the company that you believe you are going to hire is the owner of that license. If not, then you may be dealing with an unlicensed contractor.

Let me give you an example of a situation we have. We have a client that is renovating a high-end condominium here in South Florida. Through the recommendation of a designer that they have a relationship with, they decided to hire a contractor. So what did they do? They did their due diligence by looking at their website and doing a few Google searches. The website of this supposed contractor has a whole page on how they are licensed, how they’re insured, and the extent of the services that they provide. Unfortunately, none of it was accurate because they didn’t have a license. The contract relationship went south and the client came to us. The owner was unhappy because of the quality of work and the delays associated with the job. They weren’t even aware of the license issue at that point. The first thing we did was to search the Department of Business and Professional Regulation website. We looked online and found out that this company had no qualifying agent and was not properly licensed. We are in the middle of litigation with this party to try to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars that were unnecessarily spent with this unlicensed contractor. This does not have to be you.

Determine if the contractor has a license number; put that license number into the Department of Business and Professional Regulation website; and verify that they have a license.

Google search both the contractor’s name and the name of the company

The reason you want to do this is because Google can be a great way to unearth information that may not be obvious or disclosed. Don’t just look at the first page of Google; dig a little deeper. Maybe there are some negative reviews that Google found. Maybe there is some license complaints that Google found or worse, there may be lawsuits involving this contractor. So, dig a few pages deep into Google and make sure that nothing negative shows up.

Get the contractor to give you some references of the work they have done and check those references out

Don’t just look at the pictures. Don’t just assume that there are valid references. Obtain the names and phone numbers of the people that this contractor did work for and talk to them. Visit their house, condo or commercial space. Make sure that this contractor that’s telling you they have done the work actually did the work.

Get a copy of the certificate of insurance

The certificate of insurance is one piece of paper that lists the type and value of the insurance that this contractor says that he or she has. Once you get that, you need to make sure that it remains valid. We have many stories of owners who obtain certificates of insurance which turn out to be fake, either because they were completely fabricated or the contractor purchased the policy only to then cancel it immediately thereafter. When you get the certificate of insurance, call the agent or broker that is listed and verify that the information is in fact accurate, and the policy is in place.

Get a written contract

Finally, obtain a written agreement with the contractor that spells out critical terms. It should define the price you are going to pay, when those payments are due, the schedule when work is supposed to be completed, and the scope of work that this contractor will perform. Understand that a good contract can protect you from a bad contractor.