LAW OF THE LAND: Property improvements and the ‘Contractor’

William L. Martin III
William L. Martin III

If you pay someone to improve your home, either by tearing part of it down, improving an existing structure or building an addition, that person or entity is generally considered to be acting as a “Contractor” by the Florida Construction Licensing Board. The payment, or compensation, can include cash, goods or services. In other words, if a dentist agrees to replace a crown for a person who adds a porch to the dentist’s house, the person adding the porch to the dentist’s house is considered a Contractor. And, in Florida, depending on the type of work performed, that person is required to have a state contractors’ license. 

Not every home improvement requires a contractors’ license. For example, the installation of a driveway or paver walkways do not require a license. Nor does the installation of an above ground pool. While installation or replacement of drywall may not require a license, it does require a license if the contract also includes work on the load bearing part of a wall, plumbing, electrical, or air conditioning work. 

Unlicensed activity in Florida is a serious problem and can carry penalties for individuals who engage in such behavior. The problem is exacerbated in the aftermath of a natural disaster such as a hurricane. The demand for licensed contractors in such situations can far outstrip the supply.

It is important for homeowners and businesses to check the license status of contractors prior to entering into an agreement. Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) has limited powers to take action against unlicensed contractors. DBPR may issue a citation for engaging in, offering to, or advertising unlicensed activity imposing a fine of up to $2500. DBPR can also issue a Notice to Cease and Desist to the person engaging in the unlicensed activity — such a notice is similar to a traffic warning. 

DBPR does not have the authority to order an unlicensed person to refund money. However, a state judge can order the unlicensed person to refund your money. While a judge ordered remedy is available, an ounce of prevention is the preferable course of action. If you are looking at hiring a contractor, visit DBPR’s licensing portal where information is provided about licensed individuals, including whether there are any complaints against the contractor. At a minimum, you will be able to determine whether the person or entity is qualified to perform the work you are asking the Contractor to perform.

Bill Martin is a former United States Air Force pilot and senior attorney for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He is currently a partner in the law firm of Keefe, Anchors & Gordon in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.