Unlicensed contractors stung | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Unlicensed contractors stung

Andy Bourelle

A sprinkler system installer came out Thursday morning to a South Lake Tahoe home, bidding on a job that would cost in excess of $2,000.

After talking about the job with the “home owner,” he was in for a surprise.

The person he was talking to was an investigator for the California State License Board. A sting operation was under way to find Lake Tahoe painters, tree trimmers, fence builders and other types of workers operating without a contractor’s license.

David Bryant, owner of Strictly Sprinklers, was one of the lucky ones. He had a license and quickly was sent on his way.

The sting busted 11 people trying to do work without a contractor’s license.

“About this time of year in the mountainous regions of the state, people want to get work done before the snow falls and it seems like the unlicensed contractors come out of the woodwork,” said Greg Armstrong, supervising investigator of the unit.

From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., three investigators from the license board’s Underground Economy Enforcement Unit with the help of a South Lake Tahoe police officer pretended to reside in an Al Tahoe neighborhood home. The investigators – based in Sacramento – came to South Lake Tahoe on Wednesday, scouring the town for contractor’s who might not be licensed.

They found business cards at local hardware stores and classified advertisements in the Tahoe Daily Tribune. By law, contractors must list their license number in any advertisement. The investigators called all the ones who didn’t and booked people every 30 minutes on Thursday.

At some points, one investigator would be outside talking to tree trimmers, another would be talking to a painter and the other would be inside writing up a citation for someone already busted. The officer called in all the identities and was there basically to “keep the peace.”

One person who was busted said he felt sick and rested his head on the table while the investigator completed the paperwork. Others claimed they didn’t know about the law. Others – those who turned out to be legitimate – said they appreciated what the investigators were doing.

“I am glad you’re out here doing this, because it protects me,” said Bryant, who was called because when he first started his business he had cards printed without his license number on it.

To be paid more than $300 for work, by law people must have a contractor’s license. If the bidders verbally agreed to do the work, and it turned out they had no license, then they were cited for criminal misdemeanors.

The alleged offenders will face prosecution in the South Lake Tahoe court system, probably looking at $500 to $1,000 fines and two years probation.

The investigators also hand the violators license applications and tell them how to become in compliance with the law.

“We’re here to hammer them on the right hand and help them on the left,” said one of the investigators. “We’re here just to make a statement: Get a license.”

Home owners who use unlicensed contractors have no guarantee what they get will be quality work, according to the license board.

Licensed workers have a $7,500 bond which is essentially insurance, Armstrong said, that the work will be to a certain quality. The license also guarantees the person has at least four years of experience. The license board can step in between an unhappy home owner and a contractor who won’t fix his or her work, ensuring a solution is found.

“A lot of people are willing to go with an unlicensed contractor because they can do the job for less money, and they end up having no recourse for shoddy work,” Armstrong said. “But the bottom line is sometimes you get what you pay for.”

The license bureau had the help of the district attorney’s office, California Department of Forestry and the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.

“This is probably the third or fourth time we’ve come to Tahoe in the last few years,” said Armstrong. “We also have investigators in this area who can respond to complaints within a day or two.”

The team of investigators operates stings throughout Northern California two or three times a month. In 1997, more than 1,000 citations were issued.

Eleven people were cited by the sting: South Lake Tahoe residents Kevin Karl Male, 34; Jose Angel Navarrete, 32; Kevin Joseph Meehan, 27; Stan Frank Rohrbacher, 37; Phillip Paul Jimenez, 42; Gerald Lee Bons, 45; Daniel Lyle Thomas, 54; Edward Joseph McGrath, 47; Richard Barton Wasden, 47; Carson City resident Nora Lee Christensen, 43; and Dayton resident Daniel James Horrigan, 45, who had an outstanding warrant and was arrested.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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