The dangers of using an unlicensed contractor

unlicensed contractor

We’ve all read the horror stories regarding the dangers of using an unlicensed contractor, whether it has to do with poor workmanship or work paid for and never completed (or done at all). As the solar industry has continued to grow, bad actors are operating in our industry now, too. We can’t urge you enough: DON’T EVER CONSIDER USING AN UNLICENSED CONTRACTOR TO INSTALL A SOLAR POWER SYSTEM ON YOUR HOME OR BUSINESS! 

The State of Florida requires a license for all solar contractors, in two categories: Certified Solar Contractor (“CVC”) and Residential Solar Water Heating Specialty Contractor (“CW”). The state license is required by anyone who installs, alters, repairs, maintains, relocates or replaces any type of solar thermal or PV systems. (Individuals employed by the contractor are not required to be licensed but they must be employees.)

Using an unlicensed contractor opens you to all sorts of dangers. Work done on a solar energy system without the proper credentials and permits can result in electrical issues, structural issues, roof leaks, even a fire. Certainly, the work is far less likely to be done to code and best practices, meaning that you will not achieve the results you were seeking from the system and it likely won’t last its full expected lifespan.

There can be significant financial repercussions as well: will an unlicensed contractor have the proper insurance? If not, you can find yourself getting sued for job site injuries – and you will likely lose. You also have very little power to force that person to fix any problems, or honor any warranties. Unlicensed contractors often simply disappear when a project has problems, and you have almost no recourse. Asking a licensed contractor to come in and “clean up the mess” is going to cost even more than your “savings” would have been originally. To add insult to injury, if you use an unlicensed contractor, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) may file charges against you for “aiding and abetting” an unlicensed person.

The purpose of requiring contractors to have proper licensing – and, yes, it is illegal for a contractor to do work without it – is to protect YOU the consumer, and ensure public health, safety and welfare. The reasons contractors don’t comply with licensing laws is because they do not have the necessary education or experience, cannot meet the financial requirements, or would not pass the background screening. ALL of those reasons should disqualify them from doing work on your home!

• Ask to see a copy of the contractor’s license/s.
• Ask to see a copy of the contractor’s liability and workers comp insurance certificates.
• Call the Florida DBPR (Department of Business and Professional Regulation 850-487-1395) or go to its website to make sure the contractor’s license is current and valid.
• Make sure your contract requires the contractor to obtain and post any necessary permits.

• If a person insists “The county takes too long to get a permit” or uses language like, “Trust me, a permit is not required.”
• If a large down payment is requested before the work begins, you might be at risk. Only partial payments (draws) should be made until the work is completed.
• If you are asked to pay in cash or make your check payable to an individual or “cash,” or to a different company name than what is on the contract.
• If you are only offered a verbal contract or a “handshake agreement.”
• If the contractor is only willing to work on weekends or after hours.
• Asking you, the homeowner, to obtain permits.
• If their license number/s are not displayed on their business cards, contracts, flyers, or vehicles.

A local business tax receipt does not serve as proof of contractor competency – you need to make sure they have a valid license! To check licensing locally you can contact:
• Manatee County: (941) 748-4501, ext. 3800
• Sarasota County: (941) 861-6126 or building@scgov.net

If you discover that a contractor is not licensed, you should report him or her to the DBPR (866-532-1440) and don’t feel bad about it. You are not only protecting your home and family but also their future potential clients!

Licensed solar contractors bring a wealth of experience to each project they encounter. They know the best products to use in each situation and have access to equipment, materials, and techniques that homeowners simply do not. A professional, licensed contractor knows that their reputation is what keeps him or her in business, so they will stand behind their work and make sure that the job is done correctly.

Proper certifications ensure that your solar power system will be installed correctly and carefully. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) is one of the most reputable certification programs for solar PV – our president, Bill Johnson, is NABCEP certified.

It is also a good sign if your solar installer is a member of various industry associations, such as the U.S. Green Building Council, Florida Solar Energy Industries Association, Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy, and others. It shows they care about industry best practices and trends, and care about wider issues (such as the environment) rather than just money.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Related content:
How to find the best solar installer
Brilliant Harvest president earns NABCEP certification for solar PV installation
What do you need to know before going solar?

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