Tips to Watch for Unlicensed Contractors

HammerWith many new home buyers purchasing properties in Bonita Springs, the next step is to remodel or rehabilitate some of these structures to make it your own. This can    lead to a rise in the number of unlicensed contractors and unpermitted work.

The Code Enforcement Division has stepped up efforts to help protect the community from unlicensed contractors. Code has increased the responsibilities and    assignments of existing staff to deal with these cases, and conducted proactive patrols to catch the violators. Additionally, we have weekend enforcement to locate work being done without permits and by unlicensed contractors. Code officers are working with the City's Community Development, the State Department of Business and Professional and the Florida Department of Financial Services Division of Workers' Compensation to address this issue.

Why Hire a Licensed Person to do the Job?

  • A licensed person has the required education, experience, insurance and qualifications to obtain a license. They must pass a competency examination before practicing.
  • Licensed individuals are screened for prior criminal history.
  • The Department of Business and Professional Regulation can discipline and even revoke a license if the person does not live up to professional standards. This is a not a total safeguard, but is a strong incentive for the licensee to do good work.
  • You may be able to sue the licensee in civil court for problems related to the work done.

Dangers of Hiring an Unlicensed Person

  • Poor qualifications. Unlicensed persons typically do not have the education, insurance, or qualification required of a licensee.
  • Poor quality work. Unlicensed contractors typically do poor quality work or do not finish the project, leaving the homeowner on the hook to repair or finish the project.
  • Possible criminal background. Unlicensed persons often have criminal backgrounds that may include fraud, theft, violent crime.
  • Likelihood of being the victim of a scam. Unlicensed persons often disappear after taking your money. Scams in the construction industry, especially home improvement, are sadly widespread. Con artists pose as contractors and often target vulnerable people and take advantage of homeowners.
  • No insurance and liability for injuries to others: You may end up being liable for personal or financial injuries to others. An unlicensed contractor typically is uninsured and will have no way to pay you back for any property damage.
  • No coverage under homeowner's policy. Most homeowner policies require that work must be done by a licensed contractor and provide no coverage for work that is not.
  • Noncompliance with building codes. Most projects, even small ones, require permits and inspections that unlicensed contractors ignore or are unfamiliar with. If your project isn't permitted or doesn't comply with the building code, you may have to remove or repair the work at your own expense and be subject to fines.
  • If you knowingly hire an unlicensed contractor you can be cited for aiding and abetting

Red flags that you may be dealing with an unlicensed contractor.

  • No license number in advertisement or posting. Licensed contractors are required to list their license number in all advertisements. Rule of thumb: Do not do hire anyone that does not have a license listed in their advertisement, which can by verified. State Licenses by checking or local competency card for painting, tile, finish carpentry (wood flooring), cabinetry, fence erection ext, please call Lee County Contractor Licensing (239) 533-5895 or
  • Advertisement or invoice lists only a name and telephone number. A legitimate business provides sufficient contact and licensure information on an invoice.
  • A claim to be "licensed and insured" but cannot produce a DBPR issued license or Competency card issued by Lee County This type of claim often merely means that the person has a driver's license and automobile insurance.
  • Want all or most of the money up front or will only accept cash. Never pay cash for your home repairs or improvements.
  • Want check written to them individually or to "cash." Be cautious of writing checks payable to individuals when a company has contracted to do the work. Include a note on check or money order about what the payment is for.
  • Blank or generic invoice. Contractors licensed are required to display their license number on an invoice.
  • Oral agreement only. The best business practice is to put everything in writing, including a detailed description of the work to be completed, an anticipated completion date and the total cost.
  • Ask you to pull the permit. Pulling an Owner-Builder permit is risky business. Licensed contractors must pull the permit themselves and unlicensed contractors are unable to pull permits.
  • Unsolicited phone calls or visits. Some reputable contractors do business this way, but it is generally a tactic of the unlicensed. Be very wary of anyone who offers a bargain price, saying they are doing a job in the neighborhood and have leftover materials.
  • High pressure sales pitches or scare tactics. Don't be pushed into hiring anyone, even during a state of emergency! Dishonest people will prey on your fears.

Choosing a Licensed Contractor

  • Before you hire a contractor, ask to see an issued license.
  • Ask to see multiple forms of identification, such as a driver's license, all contact information and keep copies for your own file.
  • Ask for references. A legitimate contractor will be happy to provide you with the names and contact information of recent customers.
  • Get a written estimate from several licensed contractors. Make sure the estimate includes the work the contractor will do, the materials involved, the completion date, and total cost.
  • Beware of contractors who claim to be the fastest or the cheapest. Hiring them could result in poor workmanship, inferior materials or unfinished jobs.
  • Get a payment schedule in writing. Many contractors ask for a 10% down payment and then periodic payments during the project. Document what must be accomplished before further payments are made and conditions that must be met before any final payment. A contractor that receives more than 10% down must apply for needed permits necessary within 30 days after the date payment is made and start work within 90 days after the date all necessary permits are issued, unless you agree to another arrangement in writing. It is recommended to hold final payment until all permits for the project have been closed out.
  • Check with City of Bonita Springs Community Development about any permit requirements. (239) 444-6150 

Doing the Research 
Before making a purchase or investment, most individuals will review consumer reports to ensure their money is well spent. Hiring a Contractor should be no different, below are some links to       assist in conducting a review before signing a contract.

                  • What complaints have been lodged against the company and how well did they work to resolve the concern?
                        Check with the Better Business Bureau www.BBB.Org 
                 • Do they have a License issued by the State for Plumbing, Mechanical, Electrical or General Contracting?                                                                                                                                                                                    Check with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation  
                • Does the contractor hold a Competency Card issued by Lee County for projects like:  Tile, Cabinetry, Painting, Fencing, Trim work, Aluminum, Paving or Concrete?    
                        Check with Lee County Contractor Licensing (239) 533-5895 or
               •  Has the company or contractor been involved in any recent Court cases?
                         Check with the Lee County Clerk of Courts  
               •  Does the Company hold a current Business Tax Receipt issued by Lee County?
                          Check with the Lee County Tax Collectors Office
               •  Has the Contractor recently been arrested in Lee County?
                        Check with the Lee County Sheriffs Office  
                •  Did they pull required permits and complete the process?
                         Check with the City of Bonita Springs Community Development Department


Please help us send the word that unlicensed contractors are not welcome in the City of Bonita Springs, contact Code Enforcement at 239-949-6257 if you believe that you have come across an unlicensed contractor. We need to work together to make a difference.