FL officials arrest 5 unlicensed contractors for post-Irma fraud
- Hillsborough County, FL, officials have arrested and charged five unlicensed contractors for contracting without a license during a state of emergency following Hurricane Irma, according to WFLA News Channel 8.
- Authorities have charged 73 other contractors in the Tampa Bay area pre- and post- Irma with construction fraud since an investigation into those practices began in June. The three-month investigation, dubbed Operation Rebuild and Operation Swift Wind, was part of a Homeland Security Division Construction Fraud Unit initiative.
- The arrests were a result of an undercover operation in which law enforcement posed as customers who wanted construction work done.
This latest move on behalf of Florida law enforcement is only a small step in the battle against unlicensed contracting, particularly after natural disasters.
According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which licenses a wide variety of building trades, it's not uncommon for unlicensed contractors to come out in full-force offering their services post-disaster, often at cut-rate prices.
And while some "storm chasers" may be operating on ill will, not all of these contractors are unprincipled. Some contractors operating outside contracting laws might be able to offer a quicker turnaround than construction companies who have to pull permits and abide by other state and local regulations. Even in a state like Texas, which is light on contractor licensing, home builders are experiencing years-long backlogs in post-Hurricane Harvey repairs.
In an effort to loosen up the logjam of needed roofing repairs after Hurricane Irma, Florida Gov. Rick Scott made it temporarily legal for state-licensed general, building and residential contractors to do those repairs. Normally such work is limited to a contractor who holds a specialty roofing license.
One of the biggest challenges facing both consumers and contractors is a lack of national oversight regarding roofing contractors. State fluctuations in insurance requirements, too, can make expediting repair work tricky — particularly if there aren't enough contractors available to do the job and the policy dictates that such work be completed within a certain timeframe.
To help mitigate those problems, some states are forming laws to help smooth out any unsavory practices among unlicensed contractors. Kansas, known for its location in Tornado Alley, enacted a law requiring roofing contractors to register with the state. Kentucky also passed a bill in an effort to shield homeowners from contractors who do further damage to a roof in order to increase the job's scope.
- WFLA News Channel 8 5 arrested in 3-month investigation into construction fraud after Irma
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