Arrested for Unlicensed Contracting
Broward County and Dade County have been setting up stings and actively pursuing unlicensed contractors. If you have been arrested for the crime of unlicensed contracting, we can help. Andrew Douglas is a construction litigation attorney and former prosecutor, and can help you to achieve the best possible result if you are charged with a construction related crime .
In Florida, it is a criminal offense to engage in contracting work or to otherwise act in the capacity of a contractor without a valid Florida contractor’s license. It is a serious offense that should be taken seriously. You should consult with an attorney to review your defenses and come up with a game plan to achieve the best possible result under the facts of your case.
What is Contracting Without a License Defined in Florida?
Section 489.127 of the Florida Statutes provides as follows:
(1) No person shall:
(a) Falsely hold himself or herself or a business organization out as a licensee, certificateholder, or registrant;
(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.
Accordingly pursuant to the statute, there are many different violations that constitute the crime of unlicensed contracting in Florida. Proof of any one violation is sufficient to sustain a conviction.
Penalties for Contracting Without a License in Florida?
In Florida, unlicensed contracting is generally charged as a first degree misdemeanor, with penalties of up to one year in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. However, if the accused has been previously convicted of contracting without a license, the offense is a third degree felony, with a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $5,000.00 fine.
A third felony may also be charged where a person contracts without a license during a State of Emergency, as declared by executive order.
Aside from potential fines and jail sentences, a criminal court can order a violator to pay restitution. Such restitution order can be made a condition of your probation, and failure to pay may find a violator subject to contempt.
Defenses to a Charge of Unlicensed Contracting.
In most Florida prosecutions, there are multiple defenses that can be raised to contest a charge of Contracting Without a License. The first problem for the prosecution is evidentiary in nature. If the charge is that the defendant falsely held himself out as a license holder (“certificateholder” “registrant”), there will usually be a factual dispute as to what representations were actually made to the alleged victim. If the allegation is that the defendant engaged in the business of contracting or acted in the capacity of a contractor, then the issue becomes whether the defendant actually acted in a “contracting” role. If it can be shown that the alleged contracting was more limited in scope, this can provide a complete defense to the charge.
The second problem for the prosecution is technical in nature. The fact is that most misdemeanor prosecutors do not know how to properly prove that an accused was in fact “unlicensed” or “unregistered.” Although it may sound simple, proving the absence of a certificate or license (and doing so in accordance with Florida rules of evidence) can be a challenging task for inexperienced prosecutors, who lack the time to conduct legal research. If proper evidentiary objections are made, this may prevent the State from proving every element of the offense.
In addition, there are numerous exemptions provided in Chapter 489 where an individual or business entity is not required to have a contracting license. If an accused falls into one of these exemptions, this will serve as a complete defense to the charge.
The BSO has conducted 14 similar operations in the last three years, resulting in 240 arrests. About 60 percent of those apprehended were felons, with prior crimes ranging from burglaries to homicides, Det. Danny Belyeu told NBC 6. Most of the unlicensed contractors also had previous encounters with the licensing division, earning them a new felony charge.