Florida’s crackdown on unlicensed contractors has received an increase in funding.
The state’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation, which licenses contractors, received $850,000 in this fiscal year, an increase of about $200,000 over last year. Officials estimate it will spend $350,000 hiring more investigators and $150,000 on a public awareness campaign, with the remainder going toward various expenditures.
While resources will be spread across a variety of professions, the majority is earmarked for the construction industry — pool builders included.
From July to October 2013, the agency conducted six sting operations, which is twice as many as there were at that time last year, public records show.
An undercover operation earlier this year cited nine violators for various offenses, including contracting without a license. An ad on Craigslist invited electricians and roofers to bid on a job and they were arrested after providing proposals to undercover detectives.
Also, a week-long sting last month in Cape Coral served 21 offenders with cease-and-desist orders. Those individuals were identified through advertisements and consumer complaints.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in enforcement in general,” said Steve Bludsworth, president of All-Pool Service & Supply in Orlando. “What we were hearing at the height of the recession was, ‘We don’t have anyone to look into this. We don’t have the staff.’ ”
Public service announcements, as well as smartphone apps enabling homeowners to quickly look up a contractor’s license number, also are helping curb unlicensed activity, state officials say.
But slapping violators with a fee is only so effective. The nature of fly-by-night operations is to work a certain territory until they have a run-in with the law, then set up shop somewhere else. That’s why Sarasota County launched a website earlier this year that tracks repeat offenders from city to city, county to county. The site is accessible only to code and law enforcement officials, and operates separately from the state’s efforts
In the past, county officials had no comprehensive database of contractors who’ve racked up violations in neighboring counties. This is especially important because a second offense is a felony, but that’s difficult to enforce if the violation occurred in another jurisdiction.
Now, “if there is someone they’re looking at, they can say, ‘Yep, he’s been here and he’s been there, and this is the second or third time he’s been caught,’ ” said Alan Anderson, executive vice president of the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association. The organization worked with the county to develop the web portal with input from a variety of trade associations, including the Florida Swimming Pool Association.
“Adjacent counties are feeling the effects,” Anderson said, citing a builder’s observation that Sarasota’s so tough on unlicensed contractors they’re looking for work elsewhere. “He said, ‘They’re doing such a good job in Sarasota that now they’re all coming to Charlotte County. ...’ ”
“That’s not what we want to do,” Anderson added, “but it’s effective.”