As the Florida pool market continues to flounder, pool builders and local enforcement agencies have increased their efforts to stifle unlicensed contractors.

“We increased our [enforcement] efforts based on feedback from the construction industry and others, [including] consumers,” said Alexis Lambert, spokeswoman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. “We’re continuing to make this a priority.”

From July 2008 to June 2009, there were 505 enforcement sting operations — an increase of 50 percent over the prior year and more than triple the number in 2006-2007, according to DBPR officials.

Local agencies also are taking charge. Operations in Miami and Tampa have clamped down on unlicensed activity with targeted enforcement teams.

“I know about three other pool men who got [court summons] because they’re doing pools with no license numbers on the trucks,” said one service company owner in Miami.

With bids spiraling downward in an increasingly competitive market, licensed contractors have been doing their part as well.

“Complaints of unlicensed activity have really picked up with the whole economic downturn,” said Jim Manning, executive director of the United Pool & Spa Association in Tampa. “[Unlicensed] guys are normally the employees of the larger companies … or subcontractors, and they’ve been laid off or their production is way down.”

Starved for work, unlicensed contractors from Alabama and Georgia also are coming into Florida to poach work in the state’s Panhandle.

Even licensed individuals are overstepping their bounds. Industry subcontractors, whom the state created a special license for in 2007, are contracting illegitimate work.

“They’re representing themselves as full-blown pool contractors, and sometimes their license certificates, wallet-sized photos and listings on the state’s Website look so similar to those of licensed contractors, even building officials are letting them go through and get permits,” Manning explained.