Criminal Defense for Unlicensed Contracting, Licensing, and Business Crimes in Clearwater.
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Over the years, Florida has cracked down on unlicensed contracting crimes. It is a criminal offense to act in the capacity of a contractor without a valid contractor’s license or to engage in contracting work. Contracting without a license is a serious crime carrying felony or misdemeanor penalties, depending on the number of convictions.
Law enforcement officers in the Tampa Bay area have increased the number of undercover sting operations for”unlicensed” contractors. A number of these operations target a handyman who has no intention of breaking the law but gets trapped into agreeing to do work, which may violate the statute.
Just recently, the sheriff’s office, Florida Department of Financial Services and Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney, conducted a sting from Oct. 9-11, 2019 at a vacant home in Belleair Bluffs, subsequently arresting 17 unlicensed contractors working in Pinellas County on 38 charges including unlicensed specialty contracting violations and workers compensation fraud.
Since the sheriff’s first undercover operation on Aug. 7, 2017, 188 unlicensed contractors have been arrested on 404 criminal charges after offering to do work totaling $880,000.
If you are charged with a criminal offense for unlicensed contracting, you want an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent you at every phase of the case including arraignment, during any pre-trial motions to dismiss the charges altogether, or at trial, as you fight for a”not guilty” verdict.
We also represent clients who receive a”cease and desist” notice from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), along with an administrative complaint, the election of rights form, along with the proposed settlement agreement.
Often, you will find that a code enforcement officer will issue a citation for performing an unlicensed contracting job, and you have ten days to respond. Either way, the Law Firm of Powers Sellers & Finkelstein, PLC has over 20 years of combined experience defending clients charged with all levels of unlicensed contracting crimes. All Criminal Charges are serious, and you need a skilled Criminal Defense Attorney on your side. Call us and get your questions answered in a free private consultation at (727) 531-2926 anytime, 24-7!
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Under Florida law, the offense of “Contracting Without a License” can encompass a broad range of conduct related to the construction and home improvement industries. Section 489.127, Florida Statutes, provides as follows:
(1) No person shall:
(b) Falsely impersonate a certificateholder or registrant;
(c) Present as his or her own the certificate or registration of another;
(d) Knowingly give false or forged evidence to the board or a member thereof;
(e) Use or attempt to use a certificate or registration that has been suspended or revoked;
(f) Engage in the business or act in the capacity of a contractor or advertise himself or herself or a business organization as available to engage in the business or act in the capacity of a contractor without being duly registered or certified;
(g) Operate a business organization engaged in contracting after 60 days following the termination of its only qualifying agent without designating another primary qualifying agent, except as provided in ss. 489.119 and 489.1195;
(h) Commence or perform work for which a building permit is required pursuant to part IV of chapter 553 without such building permit being in effect; or
(i) Willfully or deliberately disregard or violate any municipal or county ordinance relating to uncertified or unregistered contractors.
Contact our office for a free case evaluation to determine what your options are.
The Florida Legislature has, as a matter of state policy, made it extremely impossible for the contractor who selects not to obtain the legally required permit to have a lucrative livelihood. This strategy was created to goad builders into getting the licensing and to protect the people. Contractors face a lot of negative consequences by not complying. The only way to prevent those effects is to obey the law.
In a number of these circumstances, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) will issue a cease and desist notice to impose fines of up to $5,000 on anyone who knowingly hires an unlicensed contractor. § 455.228(1)-(2), Fla.. Stat.
DBPR may impose a fine of $10,000 on any person found guilty. § 489.13(3), Fla.. Stat. Because building fraud may cost homeowners thousands of dollars these offenses are prosecuted.
In 2003, the Florida Legislature amended section 489.128 to eliminate language which made contracts with unlicensed contractors unenforceable by either party and announcing instead that only the unlicensed contractor had no enforceable lien or contract rights concerning the contract.
A first offense of contracting is a misdemeanor and another offense is charged as a felony. § 489.127(1)-(2), Fla.. Stat. Penalties may apply to a contractor who’s currently working beyond the scope of this license.
Additionally, your actions may not constitute a crime and you may have legitimate legal defenses. Getting an experienced Unlicensed Contracting or Specialty Contracting, Licensing, or Business Criminal attorney involved early in the process can reduce the impact on your business, job, and reputation. Call us for a free evaluation at (727) 531-2926 anytime, 24-7!
In Florida, unlicensed contracting is usually billed as a first-degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to 1 year in jail or 12 months of probation, and a $1,000.00 fine.
But if you are convicted of unlicensed contracting, you could be charged with penalties of 5 years of probation or up to 5 years in prison, and a fine, as a third-degree felony. A third felony may also be charged as declared by executive order if you contracted without a license in a State of Emergency.
Aside from potential fines and prison sentences, if you are convicted of or plead guilty to a charge of unlicensed contracting you will be subject to court-ordered restitution. This occurs where the alleged victim claims a loss stating you performed substandard work.
If even a causal relationship is shown between your work and the loss, you may be ordered to compensate the victim. In many cases, restitution awards could be tens of thousands of dollars. A failure to pay the restitution or to pay it in a timely manner could result in you being held in contempt of court.
Evidentiary and Factual Defenses
The first issue for the prosecution if you are charges with contracting without a license is factual and evidentiary in nature. If the charge is that you held yourself out as a permit holder or registrant, there will usually be a factual dispute as to what representations were made to the alleged victim.
If the allegation is that you engaged in the business of contracting or acted in the capacity of a contractor, then the issue becomes whether you really acted in a”contracting” role. This can offer a defense to the charge, if it can be shown that the alleged contracting was limited in scope, or if a dispute could be increased on the issue.
This problem for the prosecution is technical in nature. The fact is that the majority of misdemeanor prosecutors will not understand how to properly prove that you were in fact “unlicensed” or”unregistered.”
Although it may sound easy, demonstrating the absence of a certification or license (and doing so in accordance with Florida rules of evidence) can be a difficult task for inexperienced prosecutors, who lack the opportunity to conduct legal research. This may prevent the State from proving every element of the offense if appropriate evidentiary objections are made.
License Not Required
Not all construction or contracting work requires a license, and the State Attorney’s allegations has to be carefully analyzed to check if your conduct fell within the purview of a licensing statute or regulation.
In addition, there are numerous exemptions in which an individual or business entity isn’t required to have a contracting license given in Chapter 489. If you fall into one of these exemptions, this will function as a defense.
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Unlicensed Contracting, Licensing, and Business Criminal Defense Attorneys in Clearwater
Amanda Powers Sellers
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Jenna C. Finkelstein
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Criminal Defense for Unlicensed Contracting, Licensing, and Business Crimes Attorneys in Clearwater