Unlicensed Contractors

One of the duties of the Building Official is to watch out for unlicensed contractors. In the last year we have been averaging less than 1 unlicensed contractor per month. Thanks to all the people, public and professional who have made certain the company they are about to hire is licensed with the City of Buffalo. If you have any doubts about your contractor please call the building department and I will look up the company or individual in question. If they are licensed with the City of Buffalo, I will have a copy of their license, bond, worker's comp and insurance on file in my office.

In issuing a license, the City is saying to the taxpayer, we have checked out this contractor, he has up to date insurance and bond, is in good standing with workers comp or has signed a waiver stating he is a sole proprietor and doesn't need it. We have ongoing checks of this information and we are saying that through this process, the contractor has met all the requirements to work on your private property. They have also stated that in getting the license they will perform all work according to the adopted Building Codes of the City.

If you hire an unlicensed contractor, you just have to pray that nothing goes wrong that will require you to have some of this information. Who is responsible if an unlicensed contractor falls off your roof. If an unlicensed contractor does sub-standard work and causes damage and walks away, who's insurance will pay for that? If an unlicensed contractor cuts corners, not following the code and costs you the sale of a home, how much did you actually save?

Who needs a license? All contractors and sub-contractors are required to have a license before beginning any work. Some contractors will pay someone cash to work with them because they do not carry workers comp insurance, this person would need a license. The real test is if you get a W-2 at the end of the year, you are an employee of that contractor. If you do not get a W-2 or are not covered under someone else's workers comp insurance, then you are a subcontractor, and need to be licensed.

Why wouldn't someone get a license. I would be very weary of anyone that doesn't get one. First of all they are saying they don't care what our rules are. What else are they not going to care about? Your home is your biggest investment, something not to be left in the hands of amateurs. Buffalo has some outstanding contractors. From my experiences over the last two years, I have gained a high level of respect for our local contractors. Someone may come along that can do the job cheaper, but cheaper isn't cheap if you have to do it twice. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Ask some questions next time you want to hire a contractor. Contractors are issued a license and a wallet card that has the year they are licensed for printed on it. Ask to see their license, it's just that simple. You can always call City Hall and check to see if someone is current. Should you happen to hire an unlicensed contractor by mistake, we will still be looking for them. If they are caught working there are some pretty good fines for working without a license or a permit. In the long run, it is always cheaper to get the license first.

Speaking of permits. Permits are not required for inside work unless it involves structural changes, plumbing, or heating. My suggestion is that a person call the Building Department and ask if what they are intending to do on the inside of their home requires a permit. All work done outside a house is required to be permitted - Windows, doors, siding, roofing, additions, garages, fences, and new construction. When a permit is issued, the contractor receives an orange placard that is to be placed in a window. If you have paid your contractor for a permit and do not see a permit posted and never see an inspector, chances are they did not get the permit.