This May, Larry Dorman received an anonymous phone call from a blocked number. The caller insisted that Dorman, the owner of Elegant Waters in Weatherford, Texas, personally come to his site to repair a pool pump.
“They never would tell me where they were or anything,” Dorman said. “They just kept pushing, wanting me to come to the site. I had to flat-out say, ‘No, I’m not interested.’”
The call was especially suspicious, Dorman said, because he’s been turning down electrical jobs since the beginning of the year, while he teaches a prep course for the Texas Residential Appliance Installer exam. That position made him ineligible to take the exam and perform licensed electrical work, a fact that he said was common knowledge in his area.
Though the caller never identified himself, Dorman has little doubt that his company dodged a sting, or perhaps an attempt by a competitor to dangle bait, then report an unlicensed work violation to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. If Dorman is right, he could have been fined more than $500 for accepting the job offer.
In March, TDLR began requiring every technician performing electrical work to obtain an updated RAI license, which means passing an exam based on the 2008 National Electrical Code handbook. Though TDLR did conduct stings on unlicensed companies in earlier years, the department has been patient with the pool and spa industry lately.
Thanks to statewide campaigns for voluntary compliance, led by groups such as the Aquatic Professionals Education Council, TDLR has agreed to refrain from stings on pool firms unless they receive a specific complaint.
But since March, TDLR has received at least 34 reports, mostly anonymous, concerning pool companies — and the department must respond to each one. “If someone files a complaint, we have an obligation to enforce the law as it’s written,” said David Gonzales, manager of building mechanical sections with TDLR.
Enforcement means hiring an investigator, who usually starts by making cold calls, then visits the site in person if necessary.
As the licensing board is finding out, however, not every anonymous complaint is urgent.
Mike O’Neil, operations manager at TexSun Pools in Spring, Texas, also received a call in May; but here the called explained he was an investigator working with TDLR.
When O’Neil asked what the problem was, the investigator answered that TDLR had received an anonymous complaint: TexSun was allegedly operating without a license.
“We are licensed, actually,” O’Neil said, “and we told them that, and gave them our license number. It turned out there was some confusion about the name: The name on our license was our parent company’s name, which wasn’t the same as our DBA, the name in our ads.”
TexSun had filed for that license update with TDLR several months earlier, a fact the investigator readily acknowledged. “The whole dealing was really ‘no harm, no foul,’” O’Neil said. “Luckily, we were in a compliant situation, but they might not be so friendly to someone who doesn’t have a license.”
That’s why groups such as APEC have been working hard to spread the word about the exam, and the fact that TDLR will prosecute any cases involving a license violation. TDLR officials agree that if a company wants to avoid red tape, getting licensed is the best step it can take.
Though TexSun continues to operate normally, its case, like those of many other companies, is still technically open. Legally, it can continue to perform work as usual. But, TexSun owner Tom Steinbacher said, “We may be looking at three to four months before we even know [who reported us]. So right now, we’re kind of stuck in limbo.”