L&I News

See more More news releases

July 6, 2007

Check out your contractor before you sign on the dotted line

TUMWATER — Thinking of hiring a contractor for a home improvement project this summer? The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) suggests that you go online before you sign on the dotted line.

Contractors are busy this time of year as homeowners take advantage of summer weather to re-roof, paint or start big remodeling projects. How do you find a contractor who will give you good work for your money?

One way to do it is to check whether your contractor is one of more than 50,000 who are registered with L&I. In order to be registered, a contractor must show proof of meeting state insurance and bond requirements. Contractors must be registered with the state in order to work legally.

At Contractors.LNI.wa.gov, you can make sure your contractor is registered and find out whether the contractor has any current claims against his or her bond.

“Unregistered contractors are out there looking for work. We issue more than 1,000 citations a year to individuals working without a contractor registration,” said Pete Schmidt, L&I’s contractor compliance chief. “If the job goes bad and the contractor is not registered, a homeowner has no recourse.”

Checking out a contractor on the L&I web site doesn’t guarantee that he or she is a good one or that they are qualified to handle your particular job, but it’s one of several 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. Then verify 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 office, 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 are also important.
  4. Ask for references on similar projects and go look at the finished product. Also, visit a project in progress to see how the contractor operates — is the site clean, do they communicate with the homeowner and follow up in writing with changes? References should also include suppliers of products and subcontractors.
  5. Be wary of contractors who ask you to buy the building permit. Property owners can purchase a permit for work they personally do on their own property, but only a registered contractor can buy a permit for work on someone else’s property. Also, make sure that all inspections required under the permit are conducted.
  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.
  7. Withhold 15-20 percent of the project cost until you are fully satisfied with the finished product.
  8. Try to anticipate problems and inconveniences such as cost overruns or cleanup, and make sure a written agreement is in place before the work begins.
  9. 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. You may also want to consider a “performance bond” for any project over $12,000.
  10. 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.

To recover damages from a contractor, you must file a lawsuit in the county superior court where the job was done. A description of the process can be found at www.lni.wa.gov/IPUB/625-088-000.pdf.

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.

###

Media contact: Elaine Fischer, L&I Public Affairs, at 360-902-5413 or nele235@Lni.wa.gov.

Broadcast version
Are you thinking of hiring a contractor for a home improvement project this summer? If so, the Department of Labor & Industries recommends that you go online before you sign on the dotted line.

At Contractors dot LNI dot wa dot gov, you can check to be sure a contractor has the required insurance and bond and is registered with the state.

There’s also a 10-point checklist to follow when hiring a contractor. Pete Schmidt, L&I’s contractor compliance chief, says this: “Unregistered contractors are out there looking for work. We issue more than 1,000 citations a year to individuals working without a contractor registration. If the job goes bad and the contractor is not registered, a homeowner has no recourse.”

End of main content, page footer follows.

Access Washington official state portal

© Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries. Use of this site is subject to the laws of the state of Washington.