Protecting Yourself against Unlicensed Contractors in Florida

I must run into two to three people a week that has hired a contractor and don’t even know if they are licensed or not. I have one such case where the contractor spells out in there hand written proposal “Licensed and Insured”. However, after questioning this contractor, it is found that he is not licensed as a Certified Contractor nor has any insurance. Without boring my readers with the details of the law which I have provided below, the simple question I get is: Why is the license or having insurance so important? Well, let me give an example of a typical scenery.

A Contractor is hired to do work for you, and in this example we will use a condominium as an example. And you have hired this contractor to do work where there will be multiple trades involved and the contract amount is about $100,000 worth of renovations. Moreover, this contractor asks for you to write the check to their personal name and later we will find the reason is because, the contractor  does not have a legal or registered corporation.

As obvious as this example is, most people fall into the same trap. Let’s say 95%

Let’s move on to the fun of construction, the materials are delivered to your condo unit, however, the granite walls in the lobby and elevator is damaged and now you have the property manager calling you. Once you get past that fiasco, one of the workers get injured by falling from a 10′ ladder and has to be taken to the hospital but the worker nor the contractor has any insurance let alone; workman’s comp. Well now you just became responsible for the hospital bill and a potential lawsuit from the family of the injured worker. And since the permit was signed as the Owner/Builder, and the city inspector is not satisfied with the work, another problem mounts to the others. And, to top it off; the contractor has not paid the workers/sub-contractors and now you have liens on top of that. A COMPLETE NIGHTMARE!!

I run into these cases every single day and my first reaction is? Did you not see this coming? No easy answer, but if you are going to go through the trouble of renovating or building; Get Informed! I don’t care what state or county you are building in, one thing is for sure, Con’s will be there. So you need to ask questions. If the person makes you feel the question you just asked is dumb or you just don’t know or understand construction. I guarantee you, they are hiding something. I spend a countless amount of time making sure that my clients are well aware of what they are getting into and answer as many questions and encourage them to email me as questions arise.

The days of a guy jumping out of a big Chevy Dully with the bright tool bin slung across the bed and a metal clip board eager to start the same day is gone. Most of those guys could not read or interpret the building codes let alone read a set of plans. And the metal clip board, that is to give the quote, ask for a large sum of money and be lucky if this person comes back to start the work within the month.

Here is how a typical construction payment schedule should look. First, get a detailed breakdown of the costs from the different trades. The Architect/Engineer is usually the ground level of the project. ONLY pay for the plans to start. Once a permit is obtained, a construction schedule and schedule of payments will go into effect. Have a penalty clause for not meeting the deadline in the separate intervals of construction. And, never, never give a down payment that is more than what is allowed in your state, most states are right around 20%.


According to Florida Statute 455.228, if you hire an unlicensed contractor, the Department of Professional Regulations (D.P.R.) may issue a cease and desist order and also may take you to Circuit Court, which has the authority to impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for aiding and assisting unlicensed activity. You could also be liable for court cost.

• If you pull a permit for an unlicensed contractor, you are held responsible for the work, not the contractor.

• If you hire an unlicensed contractor, you may actually pay more for the job, than if you hired a licensed contractor. Especially, if the work is done incorrectly or never finished, you may have to pay twice or more for the same job to be corrected or finished.

• If the unlicensed contractor fails to pay his sub-contractors or suppliers, you may be required to pay them, even though you have already paid the contractor. • Plumbing, electrical, and heating and air conditioning, mold assessment/remediation work should be done only by contractors and craftsmen certified in those trades and may require separate permits.

• Home or Building improvement or Code Remediation contractors must be certified by the State of Florida as either a General, Building, or Residential contractor. • Roofing contractors are required to be certified or registered by the State.

• There is no such thing as a “legal” jack-of-all-trades.

• An “Occupational License” is not a regulatory license or a certificate of competency, but a tax for the privilege of engaging in or managing a business, profession or occupation.

• You may be held liable for injury on your property if the unlicensed contractor has no insurance or Workman’s Compensation.

The State of Florida is doing all it can to protect the public against illegal contractors by educating the public and offering the following suggestions. Watch for the following warning signs, these may indicate the person/company is not certified.

License information can be obtained from the D.B.P.R. web site:

Visit us at:


Filed under Building Violations, General Construction, Renovations

5 responses to “Protecting Yourself against Unlicensed Contractors in Florida

  1. Sandra Michaelson

    After six months in delays and dealing with sub-contractors knocking on my door to get paid, I did a little research and found, the constractor I signed a contract with is not licensed. What do I do? How do I find out if there is a licensed contractor on my job? Your post states that I am responsible, How is that? The real irony of this is that this contractor came highly recomended to find that the only work that he did for this person was general repairs and painting. I am building a 1,300 S.F. Addition to my home. PLEASE HELP!!

    • Well, your situation is definitely classic and no easy fix. Most of the time these contractors will make you write the check to their personal name. In your case, this will make finding this person a little easier. First, do not pay another dime to this person. Second, get in touch with your local State Attorneys office, they have a division just for these cases and finally, the DBPR and file am unlicensed contractor complaint. That is to start, next, meet with all of the subcontractors and ask for signed agreements with your unlicensed contractor. Most of the time, there is no agreement – the unlicensed contractors I have delt with in the past do not keep good books. And finally, give all of this information to an attorney to get you an the legal track of putting this guy away. The more information you gather, the stronger case you will have. It would be a good idea to contact the building department and meet with the Building Official. I can assure you that your situation is not unique. Finally, have you Architect visit the site to ensure that no unsafe conditions exist. Continuing with the construction should only take place when you have full control over the situation. Good Luck and keep me posted or give me a call. My number is listed on my web site.
      Marc Scavuzzo

  2. I do a local talk Radio show in Fort Pierce Florida and my show today 10/21/2011 is all about unlicensed contractors. I found your sight and will be using some of the information to discuss, along with the most recent “PSL Contractors examining board agenda”. The show is on WPSL 1590 AM but also on the web at, there’s video of us in the studio and a chat room to ask questions if you don’t like to call in at 772-340-1590. I have dedicated my show and all its contents to education consumers on how to deal with the contracting industry. Hope you’ll listen

    Tom Platania

    • Tom, I would definitely like to be part of your show in the future. I think that more now; awareness is becoming more important as recently, unlicensed activity has spiraled out of control. I dozens of questions on prevention but only after the consumer was taken by an unlicensed contractor. I will be calling you within the near future, thanks for your interest in our blog.

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