For one, they’re busy—like over-the-top busy, with all of the projects happening around the area and the lack of contractors, after many left when the housing bubble burst about 10 years ago.
- Unsplash/ Milivoj Kuhar
But hiring a contractor without a current Oregon Construction Contractors Board license can lead to bigger problems than a leaky faucet that drips through the night.
During a Central Oregon CCB sweep that ran April 29 to May 3, inspectors found 38 violations, including seven instances of people working without a license. The penalties for working without a license in Oregon start at $1,000. Subsequent violations can go up to $5,000. It’s also a misdemeanor crime to work without a valid CCB license, according to the CCB.
During the sweep, CCB field investigators found 17 violations in Bend—from working without a license, misleading CCB number used in signage and the hiring of an unlicensed subcontractor.
Just about anyone who’s watched HGTV has seen shows like “Holmes on Homes” where licensed contractors go to help out homeowners who hired someone who either did shoddy work or didn’t finish the job they were paid to do.
According to Stan Jessup, enforcement program manager for the Oregon CCB, unlicensed contractors can’t pull necessary permits and usually don’t have insurance coverage and no bond access for monetary damages. There's virtually no way the state can assist someone with recovery if they’ve hired an unlicensed contractor and the job doesn’t get finished or it’s done poorly.
“Unlicensed contractors are often unskilled and cause damage that can far exceed the cost of the initial project,” Jessup said.
Joshua Foster, who owns Ridgeback Enterprises in Eugene but does work in Central Oregon, said he recently bid on a fence job, only to have a “handyman” come in and underbid him by 50 percent.
“Here’s the worst-case scenario,” Foster said. “What if digging the fence posts the guy hits an electrical line or a plumbing line? Something that’s fundamentally damaging to the property? There’s no way the client is protected if something goes wrong."
Jessup said the only recourse people have when they’ve had problems after hiring an unlicensed contractor to do their work is going through the court system.
“If I’m doing the work and I damage the electrical line, I have insurance and bonds,” Foster said. “The other guy could just pack his stuff and leave and the homeowners out $3,500 plus about $10,000 to fix a major problem.”
Jessup at the CCB said one of the many reasons people should hire a licensed contractor is the CCB can offer mediation services when problems develop on jobs. He said each licensed contractor is required to carry a bond and insurance so that if there is a judgment and the contractor fails to pay it, the bond can assist in recovery payments.
“The contractor’s license would also be suspended if they fail to pay a judgment which makes collecting much easier for the consumer,” Jessup said.
Another concern people who hire unlicensed contractors should concern themselves with is if one of the workers gets hurt on the job at their home.
“Unlicensed contractors often pay help ‘under the table’ and don’t carry workers compensation insurance on employees which presents additional risk to the homeowner.”
There are over 40,000 licensed contractors in Oregon, according to the CCB. Jessup said people looking for legitimate contractors should check with local building suppliers—like Miller Lumber or Parr Lumber—seek referrals from friends, relatives or past customers.
“Looking for a contractor from bulletin boards, referral services and social media is very likely to get consumers an unlicensed contractor,” Jessup said. “Contractors must include their CCB number in all advertising forms and consumers should verify that the license is in good standing.”
Foster said that even if people hire licensed contractors, they should do their due diligence and check the contractor’s background. Foster said he finished a job for a client who hired a licensed contractor, but didn’t check their license history until the job went sideways.
“He had half a dozen complaints on his license,” Foster said. “He’d been suspended, fined or administratively punished over the last five years.”
People can call the CCB to check license history, Jessup said, but fastest way is to check the license online at oregon.gov/ccb.