A joint state and county sting of unlicensed contractors netted 26 tradesmen, some of whom had been cited before, the Broward sheriff's office said.
The sting was conducted April 23 and 24 at a Weston home, where investigators with both BSO's economic crimes unit and the Florida Department of Financial Services posed as homeowners seeking to renovate the property.
Once in the home, a lawn and garden vendor offered to perform plumbing and kitchen remodeling; another offered to relocate lights and change electrical panels, according to state reports.
"It becomes a safety issue if a drywall installer is doing electrical work and he's not a licensed electrician," said Broward Sheriff's Detective Mitch Gordon.
All the contractors claimed to have licenses but none had the proper paperwork, BSO said.
Of those cited for the misdemeanor offense, only one was arrested. The rest were given notices to appear in court, with 16 also receiving cease and desist notices from the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, which licenses contractors and can impose civil penalties.
Repeat offenders can face a felony charge, and "there is more of a chance of jail time, higher fines and fees," Gordon said.
Authorities say unlicensed contracting is a recurring problem that can lead to safety hazards or financial losses for homeowners who seek a good deal with cheap labor. They say homeowners should get estimates from multiple contractors for a project.
Warning signs that a contractor may not be legitimate include rushing to do a deal; lying about being licensed or insured; refusing to submit a proper cost estimate or pull permits; providing invoices that don't show a license and requesting payment to a person rather than a company.
"Many of those who have a first misdemeanor offense, they're not prosecuted or adjudication is withheld," said David Burgueno, supervisor of the Broward County Environmental Licensing and Building Permitting Division. "I've been doing this for 10 years. I'd like to see that they are made accountable for the violation of the law."
Joe Petrie, business manager for Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 719 in Fort Lauderdale, said safety should be the first consideration.
"If you go to get your hair done, the beautician has a license," said Petrie. "Why wouldn't you want your plumber to be licensed, so you have pipes that won't flood your home and you have sanitary water? Why take that chance?"
He said licensed plumbers and certified welders and pipe fitters have up to 18,000 hours of on the job and classroom training and exams, and carry liability insurance and workman's compensation costs.
Petrie said a first offense should mean a high fine, "and if you're caught again, you shouldn't be able to open a business in the plumbing or electrical industries."
BSO's Gordon said the agency targets unlicensed contractors several times a year and those arrested last week were found through online ads or had been through this process once before.
"We can only do these stings so often," Gordon said. "It's up to the homeowner to check these people out. If they've come across someone they've found is not licensed, report them."
A contractor's license can be verified at http://www.myfloridalicense.com and insurance can be confirmed at 1-877-693-5236 or http://www.myfloridacfo.com.
A contractor's track record can be checked with the Broward County Central Examining Board at 954-765-4400.
Ltrischitta@Tribune.com, 954-356-4233 or Twitter @LindaTrischitta