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May 6, 2003

Shop smart: Hire only registered contractors for remodeling and construction projects

TUMWATER —Thinking of hiring a contractor for a building or remodeling project?

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) urges you to protect yourself from scam artists by doing some homework before beginning your “home work.”

Consumers can check a contractor’s status at www.LNI.wa.gov/contractors/contractor.asp,
or by calling L&I’s toll-free contractor-registration line (1-800-647-0982) or their local L&I service center, listed in the state government section of the telephone book.

By law, all construction, electrical and plumbing firms must register or license with L&I’s contractor-registration or electrical-licensing programs to do business in Washington state. While not a guarantee of competence or performance, registration/licensing requires bonding and insurance coverage, which provides protection for consumers.

Consumers can use L&I’s online contractor database or registration hotline to:

  • Verify that a contractor is registered
  • Find out whether an action against the contractor’s bond is pending, or has been taken in the past
  • Review information about previous companies a contractor may have operated
  • Find out the names of the contractor’s bonding and insurance companies

Once the project has begun, L&I officials recommend that consumers check back with the web site or hotline often — perhaps weekly or biweekly during the project —to see if there are any changes in the contractor’s status.

“Consumer protection is one of our most important tasks,” said Peter Schmidt, program chief for L&I’s contractor-compliance program. “We take it extremely seriously. If we hear that a contractor’s insurance or bond has a claim or has been canceled, we immediately suspend his or her registration. Our program is specifically designed to help protect consumers against fraudulent contractors.”

Though it is illegal for contractors to advertise, submit bids or perform work without valid contractor registration, fraudulent contractors are still out there. They often prey on trusting and vulnerable senior citizens.

Schmidt warns against contractors who ask for large deposits or the entire costs upfront. He recommends consumers obtain a disclosure statement before any work begins.

Other useful tips:

  1. Interview several qualified contractors and solicit written bids. Bids that are significantly lower than all others should be questioned.
  2. Verify that the contractor is properly registered and bonded. Ask them to show identification and their L&I contractor-registration card. Check this information online or by calling L&I’s contractor-registration hotline.
  3. Ask for references and check them out.
  4. Be wary of contractors who ask you to pick up the building permit. In most instances, the contractor is required to take out the permit. Make sure they are in place as the work progresses and that your contractor’s name is on the permit.
  5. Try to anticipate problems and inconveniences such as cost overruns or cleanup, and make sure an agreement is in place before the work is begun.
  6. Protect yourself against liens. You can make the check payable to both the contractor and the material supply house.

Additional information for homeowners who are planning to hire a contractor to remodel, build or perform preventive maintenance is available in an online brochure, “Hiring a Contractor or Remodeler —What You Should Know,” at http://www.lni.wa.gov/ipub/625-084-000.pdf.

There are about 55,000 registered contractors, 37,000 licensed electricians and 7,000 certified plumbers in the state. L&I issues about 1,000 infractions a year (with penalties up to $5,000) for unregistered contractors who are illegally performing work in the state. To report an unregistered contractor, call the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-888-811-5974 or visit http://fraud.lni.wa.gov/.


For media information: Lisa Pemberton, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-5405, or peml235@LNI.wa.gov. L&I web site: http://www.LNI.wa.gov

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