Rob Sanger estimates that 60 percent of all swimming pool service
repair work in Florida is being done by unlicensed
The president of Galaxy Pools in Sarasota, Fla., said the culprits
are largely single operators — “one-polers” he
calls them — who are violating the law each time they pick up
a tool or turn a wrench on a piece of pool or spa equipment.
“The frustration is growing,” Sanger said.
“People are losing business. It’s a very unfair playing
field we’re dealing with, and we’re getting tired of
Florida does not regulate pool professionals who only perform water
treatment or cleaning services, but does require a swimming
pool/spa servicing contractor’s license for “piping and
repairs, replacement and repair of existing equipment, or
installation of new additional equipment as necessary,”
according to state law. This includes work on chemical feeders,
filters and heaters, replastering, and renovation of decks, coping
and tile replacement.
Meanwhile, new-pool permits in Florida are trending only slightly
higher this year than in 2010, according to the latest data. In the
big picture, that means construction statewide is still
approximately 70 percent below the peak years of 2005-06.
But service remains a bright spot in the state’s otherwise
overcast landscape. And the influx of competition to the field
— much of it unlawful — has established professionals
“It’s tough to compete on price with someone who
doesn’t have to carry insurance or keep up with continuing
education credits,” said Dominick Montanaro, owner of M&M
Pools in Satellite Beach, Fla. “It’s actually been
festering for several years now, but nobody’s done anything
about it. We’ve got a broken system here.”
Service technicians point to a number of factors contributing to
the current environment. Supply houses, they said, rarely turn away
business regardless of whether the customer possesses a valid
license. Others said local and county code officials often claim
such matters are beyond their jurisdictions.
Even financial institutions are feeding the problem, said Rich
Tarricone, president of Aquatic Pool Systems in North Port,
“I had an argument with the bank not long ago about using
unlicensed contractors to work on pools of foreclosed homes,”
he recalled. “They’re getting bids from these guys that
are at least a couple hundred dollars less than they should be.
What’s the value of our pool license if there’s no
Some have expressed discontent with the state Department of
Business and Professional Regulation, which has licensing authority
over pool and spa servicing contractors.
In the past year, the department received 95 unlicensed pool
contractor complaints, according to Deputy Communications Director
Beth Frady. In addition to conducting regular stings, DBPR agents
deliver cease-and-desist notices, and may issue fines up to $5,000
per violation, when businesses are found to be operating illegally,
“Identifying and stopping unlicensed activity is one of the
department’s priorities,” Frady said via email,
“and we appreciate any and all support available from the
licensed industry, including complaint referrals, etc.”
Still, service professionals contend that such notifications have
fallen on deaf ears of late. And when pool contractor cases do make
it to the state attorney’s office, prosecutions seem
miniscule when compared with the scope of unlicensed
Indeed, it’s created the rare occasion where an industry now
is calling for more effective government intervention and
enforcement of its members.
But in a state where competition is growing fiercer and more
lopsided by the day, greater supervision might just be the best
route to survival.
“There may be an attitude in Tallahassee against
regulation,” Sanger said, “but when the industry is
asking for it, they really should listen.”