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Surprise Sweep for Unregistered Contractors Turns up Numerous Violations

May 15, 2015
More sweeps are scheduled throughout Washington to catch contractors trying to beat the system.

Hiring unregistered contractors is risky for homeowners and encourages unfair competition against registered contractors. As a recent study noted, the employees of small contractors tend to be at higher risk of injury and death, because often corners are cut in training, equipment and workers’ compensation insurance.

That’s why the Washington Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is launching a fourth year of sweeps to find contractors who are breaking the rules.

A recent two-day sweep in Walla Walla found four contractors who either were unregistered or who had hired unregistered contractors. Each was cited by L&I for unregistered contracting, an infraction that carries a fine of up to $5,000.

During surprise sweeps, multiple inspectors team up for the checks in selected communities in addition to their regular work paying unannounced visits to construction sites year-round to check whether contractors are registered.

“We hope these surprise sweeps send a message to all unregistered contractors who try to beat the system,” said Elizabeth Smith, who directs L&I Fraud Prevention & Labor Standards. “We’re not just looking for violators during normal business hours. L&I could be at any job site at any time, any day of the week − so don’t even try working if you’re breaking the rules.”

Unregistered contractors typically have no insurance and no bond, making it tough for consumers to recover damages if something goes wrong on a project and often leaving workers footing the medical bills for workplace injuries.

Legitimate Contractors Support Sweeps

“L&I’s surprise sweeps help level the playing field for the contractors and subcontractors in our association,” said Jeff Losey, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities. “All of our members are licensed, bonded and insured. Unregistered contractors don’t pay those costs, and can submit lower bids for jobs from unsuspecting consumers.”

All too often, consumers encounter problems when hiring unregistered contractors.

“We get the phone calls from people who went with someone who wasn’t licensed,” said Losey, whose group is based in Kennewick. “There’s not much we can do except refer them to the resources and members listed on our website for their next project.”

Contractors with No Workers’ Comp Insurance

In the Walla Walla sweep in April, inspectors visited 16 job sites, where they checked 33 contractors, two plumbers and an electrician. The inspectors issued seven citations, including three plumbing infractions, which carry a fine of up to $1,000.

The inspectors also referred six contractors to L&I’s workers’ compensation audit program; three of those contractors had no insurance to cover employees injured on the job. In addition, inspectors referred six contractors who owe money to L&I to the department’s collection program, and referred one contractor to the department’s workplace safety program.

State law requires general and specialty contractors to register with L&I, which confirms they have insurance and a bond, and meet other requirements.

More sweeps are planned.

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