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When money gets tight, it’s smart to find ways to keep costs down, right?  Whether you are a bank or an Average Joe home owner in Florida these days, it’s smart to be frugal in keeping up your property as well as undertaking improvement projects.

Problem is, times like these are open season for unscrupulous contractors who take advantage of people and either do shoddy work or don’t bother to do it at all.  All too often, this wrongdoing isn’t discovered until a crisis hits: the house floods, the roof leaks, the wall cracks.  Unlicensed contractors are a big, big problem here in Florida.

Short Sale Horror Story: Shoddy Work by Past Unlicensed Contractor Creates Nightmares Down the Road

Take the story earlier this week in the Herald Tribune, which begins with a short sale.  Seems someone bought a home in Sarasota County as an investment and then resold the home (presumably for a profit) to a single mother who moved her family into their new house.  That honeymoon period of living in a new place quickly ended for her, though, as she soon found out that one bathtub wouldn’t drain out the bath water like it should.

That standing water in the tub was just the start of her nightmare.  Now, we know that unlicensed contractors were used by the investor and in all likelihood the owner before him to do major work to the property.  The garage was turned into a bedroom with an in suite bathroom.  This was smart, marketing-wise, because a 3/2 brings much more interest than a 2/1, and that extra bedroom was probably important to the single mom buyer.

Problem is that none of this work was up to code, and she’s facing around $30,000 to get things fixed to county code standards.

You can watch this Florida Short Sale Horror Story here, a public service video provided to educate everyone about the horrors that can result from unlicensed contractors by the Sarasota County Building Department.

Larry Tolchinsky’s Tip:

Under Florida law, contractors are to be licensed as professionals in their area of expertise and they only get a Florida license if they meet the standards for doing their type of work (roofing, plumbing, electrical, etc.) established by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

It’s important to use licensed professionals when having work done on your home, and it’s easy enough to check for a license online, just visit  You can also report suspicious activity (where you think someone is working without the required state license) to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation at 866-532-1440.

Unlicensed Contractors Create Problems for Sellers, Buyers, Owners, and Trade Pros, Too

Trade professionals don’t want unlicensed contractors in their marketplace.  It takes work away from the real pros and shoddy work serves to build distrust for all tradesmen.  Some groups are working hard to fight this growing problem.  For example, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America has been hosting a series of meetings throughout the State of Florida, where local licensed contractors in that area get together to swap stories about unlicensed activity in the region as well as brainstorming ways to try and stop it.

Florida home builders are joining the fight, too.  The Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA) Unlicensed Activity Task Force has been set up and next month, the Task Force will be hosting a big forum to discuss the problem, its possible solutions, and the need for more legislation to stop unlicensed contractors, at the Southeast Building Conference in Orlando on on  July 27, 2012.

Even local police are getting involved. Check out this recent story – complete with a YouTube video – of Tampa police catching a group of unlicensed contractors bidding to do electrical work on Florida homes.

This is all good news for future home repair projects.  But what about the bad work already in place, like the Sarasota single mom’s short sale home?

Home owners who are selling and prospective home owners who are buying should be wary of the real possibility that unlicensed contractor work could exist on their property.  This is particularly true when the homes are REO properties (real estate owned by a lender after a foreclosure); this real estate is notorious for having a scanty history available for future buyers.

It’s important to have your property fully inspected before purchase by an inspector you have vetted to be reliable.  Don’t just trust an appraisal: appraisal fraud still exists these days.  Don’t hire anyone who isn’t licensed if you need to have work done, and make sure any repairs done before closing are done by a licensed contractor.

And if you’ve been hit by an unlicensed contractor, then know your legal remedies.  The seller, the appraiser, and others may be legally responsible for the damages you’re facing now.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at or (954) 458-8655.

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