After a two-day sting operation in Cambria, 24 people were busted for landscaping without a contractor’s license.
Members of the Contractors State License Board teamed with the County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office to conduct the sting. Such operations are routine throughout California, spokeswoman Venus Stromberg said, and there’s usually one per week.
Members of the local landscapers association who complained that the unlicensed contractors were underbidding and stealing work from licensed contractors prompted the SLO County sting, Stromberg said. She added that similar complaints are on the rise now that contracting work is harder to find. “It was still going on, but it wasn’t cutting into their livelihood perhaps the way it is now.”
Unlicensed contractors are allowed to work on jobs that run less than $500. However, if they take out an ad they are required to state they are unlicensed and if hired can only charge a 10 percent down payment or $1,000, whichever is less. Some of those who were caught in the sting had advertisements and were contacted; others were simply suspected by members of the landscapers association and called to a house in Cambria to work on a fake job.
When they arrived at the house, if the unlicensed contractors committed a violation—charged too much for a bid or had excessive down payments—they were either issued an administrative citation and fine or instructed to appear in court on misdemeanor charges of violating state contracting laws. The goal, Stromberg said, is to get the unlicensed contractors licensed, which requires four years of journey-level experience and two tests.
Three men who walked into the sting were also arrested on the spot for unrelated existing warrants: one for driving under the influence, one for driving without a license or insurance, and one for making threatening and annoying phone calls, according to a news release. Stromberg said local law enforcement representatives are brought along on stings in case arrests need to be made.
Although unlicensed contractors can be penalized, there are no penalties for the people who knowingly or unknowingly hire them. Unlicensed contractors are primarily a liability for anyone who hires them, Stromberg said, because they usually don’t carry insurance or workers’ compensation.
“There are no penalties for the public,” she said, “unless, of course, you’re one of the ones that ends up with the headaches from what can possibly go wrong when you hire the unlicensed person.”