The Contractors State License Board regularly uses online bulletin boards, including Craigslist, as a primary source to identify potential unlicensed contractors. However, seldom have investigators seen someone use the popular online bulletin board with more regularity than Andy Karl Kelly.
Kelly, operating as AK Plumbing in Woodland, once owned a state contractor’s license. But that license expired in April 2011, and Kelly has continued to work and was given a warning letter by CSLB investigators in July 2012 for illegal advertising.
Because the illegal ads continued, including 45 posted on Craigslist between Sept. 27 and Oct. 2, Kelly was invited to give a bid at a CSLB undercover sting operation last Wednesday in Woodland. The sting was conducted by the board’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), in partnership with the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office and Department of Consumer Affairs’ Division of Investigation.
A total of 10 suspects, including Kelly and Eduardo Angel Velasco of Davis, who bid more than $500 for home improvement projects ranging from plumbing and fencing to painting, tiling and flooring, were given notices to appear in Yolo Superior Court on misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license.
In California, all home improvement jobs totaling $500 or more in combined labor and material costs must be performed by CSLB-licensed contractors.
Eight of the 10 will face an additional misdemeanor charge of illegal advertising. State law requires contractors to place their license number in all print, broadcast and online advertisements. Those without a license can advertise to perform jobs valued at less than $500, but the ad must state that they are not a licensed contractor.
Those receiving notices to appear in court are scheduled for arraignment at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 9.
Meanwhile, ads for AK Plumbing are continuing to show up on Craigslist, with 13 posted the day of the sting and 11 new ads posted on the day after Kelly’s arrest.
First conviction penalties for contracting without a license include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. A second conviction mandates from 90 days to one year in county jail, plus as much as $5,000 in fines. A third conviction also has a mandatory 90-day jail sentence and fines of up to $10,000.
Nine of the 10 sting suspects were targeted from their Craigslist ads. CSLB issued a consumer alert in June, and a second news release in September, urging homeowners to verify all contractor information that appears in online bulletin boards with CSLB’s Instant License Check.
“Consumers must be careful if they use online bulletin boards to find people to work in or around their home,” CSLB registrar Steve Sands said. “It’s far too easy for unlicensed or unscrupulous individuals to break the law and deceive consumers using the online advertising.”
One of the biggest risks property owners face with unlicensed operators is that they rarely carry workers’ compensation insurance for their employees. Without it, if someone is hurt while on your property, you may be liable.
“Don’t be afraid to check with the bidder’s workers’ compensation insurance company to make sure the policy is still valid and covers all the workers,” Sands said.
CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips before hiring anyone to work on their home:
* Hire only state-licensed contractors. Ask to see their license and a photo ID to verify their identity.
* Always check the license number on CSLB’s website at www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com to make sure the license is in good standing, and that employees are covered by workers’ compensation insurance.
* Don’t pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB’s website.
* Don’t pay in cash, and don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
* Get at least three bids, check references and get a written contract with signed change orders for any additions or amendments to the original contract.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information and publications about hiring contractors are available on CSLB’s website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752).