Finding a Reputable Contractor in the Tampa Bay area
- Get recommendations from your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Finding a reputable contractor in the Tampa Bay area can be challenging. Ask for and check references, and do not be pressured into making a quick decision.
- Make sure that contracts and business cards include a physical address, phone number and contractor license number.
- Check with your local building department or licensing board for licensing requirements, and make sure that any contractor you hire is licensed to do the kind of work to be performed. Ask whether the contractor or company has a pattern of unresolved complaints. In Hillsborough, call the County Development Services Division, (813)635-7308, 635-7309, 635-7300 or 635-7312; In Pasco, call the County Building Department – Contractor Licensing, (727)847-8009; In Pinellas, call the County Construction Licensing Board, (727)536-4720. You also can check courthouse records for lawsuits that may have been filed.
- Check the complaint history of the contractor or company with the area office of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation at (813)554-2229 in Tampa. Also check with your local consumer protection agency: Hillsborough – (813)903-3430, Pasco – (727)847-8106, Pinellas – (727)464-6200. Also check with the Better Business Bureau of West Florida at (727)535-5522 – www.bbbwestflorida.org
- Ask to see the contractor’s license. Licenses awarded by the state or county come with a wallet card. Ask for additional identification if necessary. Make sure the license is current. By law, the license number must be displayed on the contractor’s vehicle, business card and contract. Bay area building associations can also be good sources of information. Tampa Bay Builder’s Association (813)873-1000; Pasco Building Association (727)375-8922.
- Avoid contactors who ask you to get permits. You are responsible for code violations if you pull permits for unlicensed contractors. Plus, you may be prosecuted and fined for aiding and abetting an unlicensed activity. Avoid contractors who tell you that permits are not required for major repairs. Because an unlicensed contractor may not have workers compensation and liability insurance, and because homeowner insurance policies do not generally include this kind of coverage, a worker can sue you if he is hurt on your job.
- Find out under whose name the company is licensed. A licensed contractor is permitted by law to qualify additional businesses. Licensed contractors do not always supervise the work of the companies they qualify.
- Find out how long the company has been in business under its current name at its current address and whether the business owner has declared bankruptcy under a different name. Contractors have been known to file for bankruptcy under one company name, reopen for business under another and claim that they are not responsible for complaints filed against the old company because it no longer exists.
- Remember that cheapest is not always best, particularly in construction. Lower bids can indicate failing to pull permits, cutting corners on work force and materials, ignoring follow-up work and failing to have worker’s compensation insurance.
- Ask for a detailed written estimate that includes material specifications, how long the job will take and the total cost. Get more than one bid.
- Read and understand the contract. Make sure it includes name, address and professional license number; all work to be done; approximate starting and completion dates; warranties for labor and material; and terms of payment. Check for nonrefundable deposits or non-escrow accounts. If subcontractors are working on your job, be sure they are licensed properly.
- Insist on a certificate of insurance, which should be provided for free. It should include the following: names and addresses of the insurance carrier, the insurance agency, the contractor and yourself, liability and workers’ compensation limits, and expiration date.
- Make sure that all necessary permits have been pulled
Extracted from the St. Petersburg Times, Nancy Paradis