Perhaps if you’re posing as a fake contractor, it’s fitting you get caught by a fake homeowner. In St. Helena, a city in Napa County, California, special investigators from the California Contractors State License Board’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team posed as homeowners in a senior community and then invited unlicensed contractors to bid on renovation work such as painting, remodeling, flooring, fencing, and concrete work. The contractors not only took the bait, but they tried to fleece these “seniors” by submitting bids far in excess of the value of the work, according to St. Helena police.
Several charges were filed, including acting as a contractor without a license, illegal advertisement, asking for an excessive down payment, driving without a license or under the influence of drugs, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The CSLB has also filed nine administrative cases in connection with the operation.
In an article published by several area media outlets, the board explained to the public that by operating without liability insurance, the homeowner becomes liable if someone is injured on the job, and the board provided further information on how to spot a contractor who is operating outside the law.
In the end, however, the contractors were given an opportunity to apply for a license and begin operating legitimately in the future. In all, police issued 22 misdemeanor citations.
This isn’t the first time the city has engaged in a sting of unlicensed contractors. In April of 2018 in a similar operation, the city issued 15 citations for illegal contracting including 12 for illegal advertising and six for excessive down payment. At that time, authorities compiled a list of potential lawbreakers from suspect leads, online advertisements, and business cards they found at area hardware stores. According to that article, a first-time conviction for contracting without a license can be punished with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or up to six months jail time.
It’s always advisable to check any locality where you are doing business to make sure you’re in compliance.