Two-day sting nets 59 unlicensed contractors

Gilroy
– Unlicensed contractors were the target of a two-day sting in
San Jose this week, and 59 of them will be appearing before a
Superior Court Judge to answer misdemeanor charges.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Unlicensed contractors were the target of a two-day sting in San Jose this week, and 59 of them will be appearing before a Superior Court Judge to answer misdemeanor charges.

Investigators from the Contractors State License Board and the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, with the participation of other state regulatory agencies, posed as homeowners at two houses in San Jose March 15 and 16, asking for bids on remodeling projects. Many were from the Silicon Valley area.

“We invited contractors to our sting site, so some of them were even from out of the state, out of the country,” said Pamela Mares with the state board. “It was a wide spectrum of people.”

The sting, along with a sweep of current job sites, caught 87 people who placed bids from $2,000 to $5,000 for jobs such as kitchen remodeling, exterior painting, landscaping, and roofing.

By law, all contractors who perform work, including labor and materials, that totals $500 or more must be licensed by the state board.

The district attorney issued criminal citations to 59 people this week for contracting without a valid license. Six were also cited for failing to obtain worker’s compensation insurance.

Unlicensed contractors face up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine, and potential administrative fines of $200 to $15,000. A second violation mandates a 90-day jail sentence and stiffer fines.

“We also invite those who qualify to apply for a license, so they can become legitimate,” Mares said. “About half of them do.”

The Department of Industrial Relations-Division of Labor Standards Enforcement assessed civil fines totaling $41,780 in the sweeps at construction projects.

With the weather getting warmer, Mares suggests Gilroy homeowners also be aware of traveling contractors.

“Be very, very cautious, especially if they have ‘leftover supplies’,” she said. “These people are really charming and really slick. We have tracked and caught a bunch of people already.”

Paving is one of these traveling contractors’ favorite ploys, she said. They will say they have extra pavement and tell a homeowner his or her driveway needs repair. Mares also suggested consumers watch for contractors in new vehicles, particularly with new equipment and out-of-state license plates, as well as non-local phone numbers.

“There’s a huge underground economy of people who are not paying taxes, who are not contributing to the community, who, if homeowners hire them they have no legal recourses if they run out or don’t complete the job,” Mares said.

The CSLB estimates that California loses between $60 and $140 billion a year in revenue to such underground activity.

The CSLB offers these tips to Gilroy consumers when dealing with a contractor:

– Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license – verify it at www.cslb.ca.gov, or 1-800-321-2752.

– Don’t rush into decisions or hire the first contractor who comes along – get three bids, check references, get a written contract

– Don’t pay more than 10 percent of $1,000, whichever is less

– Don’t pay cash and don’t pay ahead of the work

– Contact the CSLB with complaints against a contractor

Lori Stuenkel covers crime and public safety for the Gilroy Dispatch. Reach her at 847-7158 or [email protected]

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