by Elizabeth Dengler, The Huckleberry Home
As our readers know, my husband and I bought a home in Nine Mile Falls that needed a little TLC and while some of the work we did ourselves, we chose to hire out for other needs like painting and flooring. My husband and I had the very unfortunate experience of hiring an unlicensed general contractor, let’s call him “Ralph Wiggum”, to work on our home. Along with the amount of money it will cost to fix everything “Ralph” did incorrectly, from putting latex paint into our septic system to the wavy flooring he installed, we continue to kick ourselves for not verifying his legitimacy ahead of time. Had we done so, we never would’ve hired him. “Ralph’s” general contractor license was suspended over a year ago.
I’ve always considered myself savvy when it comes to looking into someone’s background before we hire them. But this time I didn’t, because “Ralph” was our neighbor when we lived in Spokane. We knew him. He’d gone skiing with my family and been over to my house for a BBQ. Our first mistake, we trusted him. I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you what we wish we’d done in the hopes that this will save any reader out there from what we’re going through.
Any homeowner prior to hiring a contractor, whether they’re a specialty contractor like my husband (he’s an arborist) or a general contractor, needs to verify that the contractor is licensed, bonded, and insured. Take this first step of verifying regardless if you know/trust the person you plan on hiring or not. And do this before you hire them.
WA State Labor & Industries has an easy to use “Verify a Contractor or Tradesperson” tool you can access at: https://secure.lni.wa.gov/verify/. There you will be able to conduct a simple name search to see the status of the contractor’s license as well as their insurance, bond and more. Simply put, these licensing requirements are in place to help protect the homeowner if the contractor is injured on your property, doesn’t perform the work as agreed or to code, or does damage to your property. We’ve since discovered that L&I has many great resources available for homeowners to help when you need to hire a contractor. I encourage you to look through their website.
Anyone in WA State who is fraudulently doing work as a general contractor is committing a gross misdemeanor. And right now with contractors being booked very far out, there are people out there looking to take advantage of homeowners. Unfortunately, we had already made 3 payments directly to “Ralph” and purchased all the supplies he wanted. The most costly mistake was that he put me and my family at great financial risk and liability.
Another step you will want to take after you’ve verified that your contractor is legitimate, is asking for references and calling them. The radon mitigation company I hired gave me a binder to look through with pictures of their work, who they’d contracted with in the past, along with copies of their patents and the materials they’d be using. An HVAC contractor I hired provided me with an itemized list of all the materials he would use for the job, along with labor cost, time estimate for completion and a copy of his current license and insurance. If the person you’re considering hiring won’t share information with you or they’re being vague, it may be in your best interest not to hire them.
Red flag after red flag kept showing up and we finally called L&I to verify “Ralph’s” contractor license and that’s when we discovered we’d been conned. After speaking with their Contractor Fraud Division, we opened a claim with L&I. It took less than 24 hours for an investigator to be assigned. As soon as the claim was assigned, my husband and I were able to speak with the L&I Construction Compliance Investigator for our case. He was very helpful answering all our questions. That same day, we terminated our personal and professional relationship with our “Ralph” prior to the completion of the work on our house. We then had to call the Sheriff to have “Ralph” escorted off our property because he was making threats and refused to leave.
We could have prevented all of this had we been smart and just checked him out first. I don’t like going through life not trusting people and our general rule is we trust someone until they show us we can’t. This was a very expensive lesson for us to learn. But my hope is that by sharing our costly mistake we can help fellow homeowners avoid a similar or even more costly misfortune.