Installing alarm and security systems is complex work. It requires an education. In Florida, it also requires you have a license that proves you have achieved the necessary level of expertise. After all, you have the public’s safety in your hands. Having unlicensed contractors operating in your industry is not good for anyone.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, in partnership with the Clay County Sheriff ’s Office, completed a two-day contracting sting operation recently in May. These stings are set up throughout Florida on a regular basis. In the Clay County operation, the DBPR targeted individuals found advertising via the Internet. The suspected unlicensed contractors were asked to submit bids for work including, plumbing, roofing, home theatre installation, security surveillance, electrical outlets and installation of electrical panel boxes.
When the individuals arrived to deliver the bids, they were asked to provide proof of licensure. Those who could not provide proof were arrested and issued citations. Citation amounts varied based on whether the individuals offered to do both construction and electrical work or only one of the services. They were fined either $2500 or $5000.
The Handshake, Editor, Susan Brady, sat down with Michael Green, Unlicensed Activity Administrator, Division of Regulation to learn more about DBRP’s inner workings. The department investigates complaints of unlicensed activity under the statutory authority of Section 455.225, Florida Statutes. Contracting without an electrical contractor’s license in violation of sections 489.531.(1)(a)(b) Florida Statute. The department is very concerned about unlicensed contracting activity, and we take various steps to combat this problem. The department performs sweeps and sting operations around the state in conjunction with law enforcement and other regulatory agencies. Appropriate action is taken in the event that an investigation reveals unlicensed activity. Individuals found to be contracting without a license can be charged up to $5,000 per violation and are subject to referral for criminal prosecution. In some cases where there is no apparent consumer harm, the department may issue a citation for $1,000 or $2,500.
The department has also set up a toll free hotline, 1.866.532.1440, where consumers and licensees report possible violations of unlicensed activity or obtain assistance with the complaint process. Callers to the toll free line are asked to provide the name of the unlicensed person or business, the address where the activity is taking place and any other information that will be helpful.
This information is relayed to the appropriate regional enforcement office for assignment to an investigator. Due to geographical limitations, the local office may recruit the assistance of partners at local code enforcement, building department or law enforcement to check out the activity.
Licensed professionals in all trades are becoming increasingly aware of unlicensed competition in these tough economic times. Licensees across the state are very helpful in submitting offers and advertisements from unlicensed individuals and companies. After hurricanes unlicensed persons are more prevalent and the desperate homeowner is more vulnerable than during normal circumstances.
The Department may:
• Investigate complaints and refer the information to the State Attorney.
• File an administrative complaint and seek sanctions up to $10,000.
• Issue a notice to cease and desist unlicensed contracting.
• File a case in circuit court for an injunction when a notice to cease and desist is ignored and seek a civil penalty ranging from $500 to $5,000.
• Issue a citation requiring payment between $1,000 and $2,500.
Section 455.2277, Florida Statutes, requires the Department to “report any criminal violation of any statute relating to the practice of a profession regulated by the department or appropriate board to the proper prosecuting authority for prompt prosecution.” Those working without a license can be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor for a first offense. Anyone who works without a license during a governor declared state-of-emergency, such as a hurricane, commits a third-degree felony.
The department’s investigators are not sworn law enforcement, so we are not able to make arrest. We must defer to law enforcement to make this decision on a case by case basis. Investigators work with law enforcement on sweep and sting activities and develop working relationships to provide stronger cases referred to the State Attorney.
By Susan Brady – Editor