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May 27, 2004

Check out your contractor online:

State helps consumers protect themselves from unscrupulous or unqualified contractors


TUMWATER — Contractors are busy this year as homeowners take advantage of low interest rates to remodel or add more space to their homes. How do you find a contractor that will give you a good project for your money?

One way to do it is to check whether your contractor is one of more than 50,000 contractors registered with the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I). In order to be registered, a contractor must show proof of meeting state insurance and bonding requirements. Contractors who do not register with the state are operating illegally, and L&I issues about 1,000 infractions a year (with penalties up to $5,000) to contractors doing business in Washington without proper registration.

“Scam contractors are especially active this time of year when lots of homeowners are looking for help with their projects,” said L&I contractor compliance chief Pete Schmidt. “You can also run into trouble with contractors who are well-meaning, but don’t have the experience to take on a particular job.”

While there is no way to guarantee that you have a good contractor, L&I suggests steps you can take to protect yourself against unscrupulous or unqualified contractors:

  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. Ask them to show identification and their L&I contractor-registration card. Check the contractor’s registration status at Contractors.LNI.wa.gov or by calling L&I’s toll-free contractor-registration line (1-800-647-0982) or by calling your local L&I service center, listed in the state government section of the telephone book.
  3. Review all aspects of the bid, not just the price. Materials, time frames, cleanup practices, required deposits and references also are important.
  4. Ask for references on similar projects and go look at the finished product. References should also include suppliers of products and subcontractors.
  5. Be wary of contractors who ask you to purchase the building permit. Property owners can purchase a permit for work they personally do on their own property, but only a registered contractor can obtain a permit for work on someone else’s property.
  6. Be wary of a contractor who asks for a large deposit or the entire cost upfront. Ten to 15 percent of the bid price is normally sufficient. Before work begins, ask the contractor for the required disclosure statement, called “NOTICE TO CUSTOMERS,” if your project is valued at more than $1,000. This statement provides you with information about your rights and responsibilities. Withhold 15-20 percent of the project cost until you are fully satisfied with the finished product.
  7. Try to anticipate problems and inconveniences such as cost overruns or cleanup, and make sure a written agreement is in place before the work is begun.
  8. Protect yourself against liens on your property for a contractor’s unpaid bills. You can make your check payable to both the contractor and the material supply house, pay for the materials yourself, or require a lien release at the time of delivery.
  9. Put all change orders in writing and include the additional cost. Ask questions as work progresses. If you don’t like an answer or don't understand it, stop the work until you do.

More information on hiring and working with contractors, plus links to other information, can be found at www.LNI.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Contractors/Resources/.

To report an unregistered contractor, call the toll-free fraud hotline at 1-888-811-5974 or visit www.lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Contractors/ContractorFraud/.

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For media information: Ron Langley, L&I Public Affairs, 360-902-5405, or lanx235@LNI.wa.gov.

Broadcast version (:30)

Lots of folks are improving their homes this year, thanks to low interest rates.
But how do you steer clear of scam artists or unqualified contractors?

The Department of Labor & Industries can help with that.

Check the department’s web site at L-N-I dot W-A dot G-O-V to see whether a contractor is registered with the state. You can also learn whether someone else has taken legal action against their contractor’s bond.

Helpful tips for finding a good contractor are also on the site.

Again, the Labor & Industries web site is at: L-N-I dot W-A dot G-O-V.

 

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