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Boards of lumber lie stacked at Home Depot on North Avenue in Chicago, Ill. 

In the midst of the construction season, and as post-fire flooding threatens to damage structures, it is important for property owners to be cautious when looking at who to hire for contract work.

Case and point: A local contractor pleaded guilty to a class 1 misdemeanor last month in Flagstaff Justice court for working without a license.

Michael Valenzuela entered a guilty plea following an investigation by the Arizona Registrar of Contractors after the property owner he was working for paid him $243,466 -- plus the cost of materials -- for the construction of a house that Valenzuela never finished.

Valenzuela had told the property owners he was licensed to do electrical and plumbing work and would soon be licensed for the large project. But as the registrar investigation found, Valenzuela had no licenses and hadn’t even filed for the electrical and plumbing licenses he claimed to have.

Valenzuela was fined $1,921 and ordered to pay restitution to the property owners he was working for.

But the property owners may have gotten lucky in this case, said Arizona Registrar of Contractors spokesperson Jim Knupp. Often, a homeowner can have a difficult time getting compensation if they unknowingly hire an unlicensed contractor and something goes wrong.

And that’s not the case for licensed contractors, Knupp said. If a homeowner hires a licensed contractor and issues arise, there are consumer protections in place to help, and the homeowner could be able to get as much as $30,000 to make up for any lost money.

Hiring a licensed contractor also ensures they have the level of knowledge required for the job, Knupp said. On top of that, he said licensed contractors also have requirements for how they treat their own employees.

That’s why Knupp said it’s important for homeowners to make sure they are hiring licensed contractors. The easiest way to do that is simply going on the agency's website and looking up the contractor.

The case involving Valenzuela is somewhat unusual in that it ended in a court case at all.

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Knupp said the majority of the work they do is simply informing unlicensed contractors that they need a license to operate in Arizona and then bringing them into compliance.

Many are uninformed about the law and if they haven’t done anything wrong, Knupp said, there is no reason to charge them with anything if the can simply help get them licensed.

Some contractors also work without a license thinking there is a “handyman exemption,” but that is not the case.

Because of this, while a lot of their work involves investigating complaints, Knupp said they often drive to different work sites to speak with the contractors on the job and help them get licensed if they are not.

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Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at askabelund@azdailysun.com, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.

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