Officials: In Summit County, beware of unlicensed contractors
If something seems even a little bit shady, it probably is.
That’s the piece of advice Mark Steinagel, Director of Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, is giving Summit County residents considering hiring contractors. A construction boom in the area has made the county a hotspot for unlicensed contractors looking to make a fast buck for shoddy or unfinished work.
"The problem is a big one," Steinagel said. "We get these people that travel around the country, and they’ll target an area for a while and go door-to-door using some pressure sale tactics.
"There are many who do target the affluent," he added.
Unlicensed contractors typically offer to do work for a price that seems too good to be true. That’s because it is, Steinagel said. They request the money be paid upfront, then often either disappear before doing any work, or do the job poorly, resulting in the homeowner having to pay again to get it fixed by a legitimate builder.
They could also fail to pay subcontractors or suppliers, which can result in a lien on the homeowner’s property. Steinagel said the state has what’s called a lien recovery fund to pay subcontractors who are stiffed — releasing the homeowners from the financial burden — but to use it, homeowners must be able to prove they hired a contractor who was licensed. Those who can’t are left footing another bill.
"I’ve seen many claims from Summit County over the years on that fund," Steinagel said. "The reason people were able to make claims on that fund is because they did use a licensed contractor. The unfortunate thing is when we get a phone call from someone who did not."
Matt Russell, owner of Russell and Co. Builders and president of the Park City Area Home Builders Association, agreed that homeowners absorb the brunt of the burden from unlicensed contractors. But it also hurts the builders who do things the right way.
Not only do legitimate contractors miss out on bids, but their reputations can be sullied by the shoddy work of unlicensed builders.
"They have nothing grounding them to their quality of work or to their product," Russell said. "They give all of us good contractors a bad name because when something goes wrong with an unlicensed contractor, people tend to lump us all together."
Additionally, the fact contractors must be insured and pay fees to become licensed means the playing field is not level. That’s, in part, what allows some unlicensed builders to offer their services for so cheap.
"They’re making money off the top that we should be making," Russell said.
Chad Root, Park City’s chief building official, said there are some easy steps residents can follow to make sure they are hiring a licensed contractor.
First, people should simply ask to see proof of licensing and require written contracts before paying any money. They should also seek multiple references on a builder to ensure they have a good reputation. Additionally, it’s a good idea to get multiple bids for projects because a low price outlier is a good tip off that a contractor is likely unlicensed.
"You get what you pay for," Root said, adding that people should never pay upfront for an entire project.
An additional resource for homeowners is dopl.utah.gov, which allows them to check to see if contractors are licensed.
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