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I-Team Investigation: State cracking down on unlicensed contractors

By Maria Garcia, MariaG@kvia.com.
Published On: Aug 10 2012 03:52:54 AM CDT
Updated On: Oct 15 2012 12:06:55 AM CDT

Reporter: Maria Garcia

EL PASO, Texas -

It starts with a phone call.

A house-flipper trying to get a good deal on electrical and air conditioning work sets up appointments with contractors.

Only this isn't a house-flipper at all.

She is an undercover investigator with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. Investigators set up in a vacant home to meet the contractors who don’t show their license numbers on their advertisements as Texas law mandates/

The air conditioning is turned off to make the situation more believable.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation is cracking down on unlicensed contractors with customer complaints or who don't display a license number.

One by one, the contractors walk into the home, scoping out the work with the undercover investigator.

They talk about work proposals and bid prices - sometimes even admitting that they're unlicensed.

“I have to show my license and I have to show my bond and my insurance and it pretty much just jacks up the price for you but what I do, is I'm very independent,” one contractor said. “I do this on my own.”

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation requires electrical contractors to have a master electrician and a contractor's license.

Licensed contractors have to prove they've gotten formal training and then pass a test.

According to investigators, many who show up to the sting operation have neither.

Still, they show up the next day with contract in hand and ready to collect cash for the job.

While one of the unlicensed contractors waited for the undercover house-flipper to come back, ABC-7 talked to the man about his not being licensed and not having insurance to do jobs.

“Como?” he responded before being asked again about not being a licensed contractor. “Yeah, I just do this independent.”

Even though he is violating the law by not being licensed and not having insurance for the job, he maintained he is honest and upfront with customers.

“But what happens if the house burns down because of faulty electrical work?” ABC-7 asked the man.

“Pues, that's going to be on me then. That's going to be on the contract, like I signed,” he responded.

“But you don't have insurance to cover that. So how would you cover that?” ABC-7 asked him.

“Well that's what I'm saying,” he responded. “You all are coming to me with these questions and I've already told you all that I've already explained to her (the undercover investigator).”

He said at a certain point you have to be licensed but the law states you have to be licensed to do any of the work.

“There's a lot of contractors that do cheat people out,” he told ABC-7. “I don't. I write contracts. I don't do anything wrong. I do my work right. I'm experienced. I don't know what else to tell you.”

ABC-7 saw at least one Craigslist posting warning about this man's contracting work. The man disputed the Craigslist warning.

“Not on me,” he responded.

Investigators don't detain the unlicensed contractors but do open an investigation on them and ask that they immediately stop performing the work they're not licensed to do.

An older man shows up who came ready to accept cash for air conditioning work state investigators said he's not licensed to do.

When the older man was asked by ABC-7 if he was licensed to perform air conditioning work he responded that he is not licensed do refrigeration work.

“I don't know,” the older man responded when asked why he would accept money to do work he is not licensed to do. “We've done it for large companies.”

Both will receive a letter in the mail soon.

Investigators said that it is proper licensing that lets the state keep an eye on contractors to ensure they follow rules meant to keep you safe.

Investigators said the suspects may face $500 fines. The District Attorney may prosecute repeat offenders.

A licensed electrical and air conditioning contractor must have a license number printed on their vehicles, business cards and even invoices.

Contractor licenses can be looked up at the Texas Department of Regulation and Licensing website. There, you can file a complaint about a contractor, and the Department's Enforcement Division will investigate.

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