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16 arrested in Sarasota unlicensed contractor sting

Sarasota County

SARASOTA, Fla. (WFLA) – With company coming, plenty of people are trying to squeeze in some home repairs before the holidays.

But you’d better watch out, because some of the men and women claiming to be contractors are unlicensed, and trying to take advantage of homeowners in a rush for repairs. 

For three days, contractors across Sarasota converged on a home in need of some work.

The men answered cold calls to come over and give estimates.

There was tile that needed to be replaced, a wall that had to be removed, along with plenty of electrical and plumbing work. But there was a problem.

“A lot of times they present themselves as licensed contractors, insured, when in fact they’re not. They’re not able to do such work as electrical, plumbing, or demolition,” said SCSO Sgt. Mark LeFebvre.

It was all part of a three-day undercover sting called Operation Freelancer VIII.

In all, 16 men were arrested, and they each face numerous charges.

Some of them were just skirting the system and trying to make a living, while others have a criminal history.

“Some of these individuals its not the first time. They’ve been in these houses before,” said Sgt. LeFebvre.

Take for example, Andrew Wheeler. He’s a convicted felon with dozens of prior charges.

“He was known to law enforcement and it was quite surprising that he showed up as a contractor,” said LeFebvre.

Unlicensed contractors don’t have the proper insurance and their shoddy work could cause a lot of damage to your home. So you have to ask the right questions.

“Where is your license? Can I see a copy of your license? Do you have a certificate of insurance for liability? Do you have a certificate for insurance for your workman’s comp?” said Tom Jackson with Jackson and Associates.

“Ignorance of the law is no excuse. I think people know that they are doing this incorrectly. I think a lot of them know that they need to be licensed and have permits and I really think its up to the consumer to be able to know what questions to ask,” said Jackson.

Sarasota County has some helpful information:

When do I need a Building Permit?
1. Any construction which alters the size or occupancy of a building
2. Construction, alteration, or replacement of any exterior walls
3. Enclosing existing carports, porches and screen rooms for any purpose
4. Construction of any raised deck, attached or detached, with or without a roof.
5. Replacement of columns, beams, joists, rafters or any other structural component
6. Replacement of wall, floor, or roof sheathing
7. Repair and replacement of interior or exterior stairs and/or guardrails
8. Electrical, plumbing, or air-conditioning when altering, adding to, or deleting from the system
9. Interior load bearing and non load bearing walls, alterations or replacements
10. Replacement of windows, doors, garage doors or skylights in existing or altered wall openings
11. Hurricane shutters, all types. Electric permit also required for power operated units
12. Roofing, replacement of any roofing component.
13. Masonry or engineered Styrofoam privacy walls or fences with any masonry components
14. Dock, Boat-lift, Seawall, or Bulkhead installation or repair
15. Fire repairs of any type or scope
16. Storage or utility sheds, all types, all materials, and all sizes
17. Motorized or electric gates
18. Chickee and Tiki Huts 
19. Decks, whether raised or on grade, on businesses 
20. Stucco over wood frame 
21. Drywall removal & replacement (3 sheets or more)
22. Accessory structures for mobile homes

When is a permit not required?
1. Painting (Except when advertised as water proofing) 
2. Wall paper and other wall coverings (Except assembly, day care and institutional occupancies) 
3. Floor and wall tile
4. Rugs or carpeting
5. Replacing kitchen cabinets (Except when altering, adding to or deleting electrical, plumbing or air-conditioning from the system) 
6. Replacement of fascia and soffit (1 & 2 Family Dwellings only) (Existing structure only)
7. Non-structural siding placed over existing siding/sheathing (1 & 2 Family Dwellings only.) 
8. Decks and patios directly on grade and without footings (Any material, 1 & 2 family residences only) 9. Small, incidental roof leak repair (1 Square and $500 or less.) 
10. Non-residential farm buildings on working farms (Must meet specific criteria and be approved by the building and zoning officials to be exempt.) 
11. Window/door change outs and re-roofing permits are no longer required for residential mobile/manufactured homes, effective March 1, 2013. (All work must still be performed by a licensed contractor) 
12. Residential home alarms (wired or wireless)

“When Floridians need to make improvements or repairs to their home, they deserve to have the confidence that the work will be done honestly, completely, and according to professional standards that are designed to protect them and their families,” said DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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