May 6, 2012
Would you place your air-conditioning unit or roof in the hands of a fly-by-night company to save a buck? Are there more unlicensed contractors offering bargains across Florida because of the bad economy?
The answers to those questions are being sought by the trade group Air Conditioning Contractors of America, which for the past five months has met with local contractors across the state – from Miami to Tampa to Orlando – to get a handle on how widespread the problem of unlicensed contractor activity is, and to explore possible solutions.
The most recent forum was held three weeks ago at The Westin Fort Lauderdale hotel, where three-dozen contractors showed up to gripe and strategize.
“What we heard in Fort Lauderdale is a reiteration of what we have heard from contractors throughout the state,” said Phil London, former president of the Florida chapter of the ACCA and current vice chair of the national organization, which represents more than 4,000 contractors.
Based on what he heard at the forums held in South and Central Florida, “unlicensed activities seem to be increasing with the downturn of the economy and lack of enforcement funds within local building departments,” London said.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation received 797 complaints related to air-conditioning companies in 2011, compared to 1,056 in 2010
Contractors at the Orlando and Fort Lauderdale meetings said among the issues that lead to unlicensed activity is the fact that wholesalers may sell air-conditioning equipment to unlicensed contractors, and that homeowners too often feel comfortable hiring a “handyman” for repairs and installations.
Rocco DiBenedetto, an operations manager for All Air of South Dade , said consumers may not understand the risks involved with hiring someone without a license. “You hire someone who gets hurt working on your property,” he said, “and the homeowner could be sued for it.”
Without proper insurance, DiBenedetto points out, rogue contractors lack the funds to reimburse for damage they cause to your property.
I say taking chances with your biggest investment is not worth the risk. It only takes homework and time to find a reputable contractor.
In addition to air-conditioning companies, the state requires about two-dozen industries to be registered or certified, including roofing, plumbing and swimming pool companies.