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Posted September 28, 2017 | 9:23 AM

Disaster Fraud Hotline to Help Screen Illegal Contractors

How to avoid and report violators during disasters

With recovery efforts underway following Hurricane Irma, Hillsborough County wants to help protect residents from the dangers of hiring illegal contractors for repair, restoration, and debris removal projects.

Fraudulent and unlicensed professionals often victimize vulnerable homeowners. As a public service, Hillsborough County has set up a citizen hotline that can help detect and report fraudulent contractors by calling (813) 635-8316. Hotline hours are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

During a declared state of emergency, unlicensed contractor penalties increase from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony under Florida law, a charge carrying up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

The Department of Consumer & Veterans Services offers the following tips to help residents and property owners:

  • Require prospective contractors to show proof of workman's compensation insurance and state-issued license from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Never accept occupational licenses, business tax receipts, or registration as a corporation or limited liability (LLC) as proof of an independent contractor's qualifications or legal licensing. For additional information and helpful guidelines, visit the State's Unlicensed Activity Program website.
  • Consult the county's Development Services or your local municipality for permits required for roofing projects, structural repairs or additions, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical, or alarm repairs.
  • Before hiring contractors such as roofers, consult your insurance company first to ensure direct payment to you (the insured) which allows recourse in the event of faulty repairs.
  • Require tree-trimmers to show proof of workman's compensation. While these individuals do not require state licensing, insurance coverage is highly recommended to protect yourself from liability.
  • Licensed contractors undergo background checks, and it's best to allow them to pull permits. For a list of warning signs that your contractor may not be licensed visit our website here.
  • Whenever possible, obtain and compare written estimates from multiple licensed contractors that include the total cost for all labor, materials, and the project's completion date.
  • Avoid contractors who come door-to-door and claim to be the fastest or the cheapest, and do ask for local references. Note: the state does not license individuals who perform minor "handyman" repairs. If you feel threatened in "any way" dial 911.
  • There is no need to pay for storm debris removal. Free pickup for residents of Hillsborough County begins on Monday, Sept. 18. Residents of other municipalities should check neighborhood schedules: City of Tampa - Temple Terrace - Plant City
    For additional information, contact Consumer & Veterans Services at (813) 635-8316 or visit HCFLGov.net/Consumer.