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Affects and the Effects of Unlicensed Construction _ Remodeling in Florida.pdf
NARI Tampa Bay is concerned with the illegal construction and remodeling activity occurring in the Tampa Bay region. The group has taken an active role in working with law enforcement and building departments to help find ways to enforce existing laws and regulations and stay within existing budgets of the various agencies. Several counties in the region have already taken steps to combat unlicensed construction activity and NARI Tampa Bay has assisted in expanding those programs to other municipalities in the area.
The chapter, based in St. Petersburg, chose to start with the city of St. Petersburg because of the good relations between the city and the NARI chapter. Several telephone calls were made by NARI to Hillsborough County and the police and building departments of St. Petersburg in early January with positive feedback. The first e-mail asking for a coordination/implementation meeting from NARI went out on Jan. 16, 2015. The initial meeting was held on Feb. 3, 2015, which is when the police department committed a fulltime detective to investigate unlicensed activity. A follow-up meeting was held on Feb. 17. All meetings included members from the following agencies:
City of St. Petersburg Police Department
City of St. Petersburg Building Department
City of St. Petersburg Legal Department
Florida Dept. of Business and Professional Regulation
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office
NARI Tampa Bay
A Letter of Understanding was created so that funds from fines go to more than just one agency or division within an agency. It helps to fund the detective(s) from the police force and ultimately, an investigator may be hired by the Building Department (as they now do in Hillsborough County). In Pinellas County, the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board levies its own fines, which are $300 to $500. The amount of the fine is limited as the Board is only an administrative arm of the law. They are not taxpayer funded. Same goes for the insurance fraud division, which may keep the money from its fines. Usually, the funds are split between the local department of the same group, police and building department, which the Letter of Understanding binds.
A recent "sting" operation in May included multiple agencies. Police set up a vacant home with cameras and then asked for bids from known suspects on jobs that would require a state license. A "War Room" was created in a police department conference room complete with video and audio feed onto a large TV screen so all could see faces, etc. Two undercover detectives were stationed near the house in vehicles and a third one posed as the homeowner inside the house. License plates were run, identities were verified by several means, licensing (or in 95% of the cases here, NOT) verified, insurance checked, etc. No arrests were made during the 3-day operation so as not to "burn" the house. The police spent several weeks getting ready to make arrests. Law enforcement expected to make close to 18 arrests with 23-25 felony charges. On June 16 & 17, the police executed the arrest warrants. A total of 16 men were arrested on charges related to unlicensed contracting. Each offender can expect fines from the PCCLB, the State and Insurance Fraud division. The police may even confiscate vehicles and tools as long as state law allows. Once all the folks were arrested, ABC Action News Channel 10 (ABC local affiliate) and the Tampa Bay Times immediately began running reports of the operation. Both news organizations have been involved in covering the operation and were in the War Room during the May sting.
On June 5, NARI Tampa Bay members [Pictured Left to Right: Linda Macholz (Special Events Director), Jamco Unlimited, Jim Macholz, CR (2nd VP), Jamco Unlimited, Doug King, (1st VP and Government Affairs Director), King Contracting, Jim Ayscue, (member) Artistic Pavers, and Eric Glinsboeckel, (President), G2 Design] went to Tallahassee to meet with the State Attorney General's office. The NARI members met with Deputy Attorney General Trish Conners to ask that Attorney General Pam Bondi make law enforcement agencies across the state realize that unlicensed contracting is a crime and not a civil offense as many police departments assume is the case. NARI discussed the models exhibited in Hillsborough County and the pilot program being implemented in St. Petersburg as an example that the enforcement action can indeed be financially supported without increasing existing budget and staffing expenditures.
In addition, the NARI group asked the AG's office to explore running ad campaigns statewide to educate homeowners on the laws affecting construction and remodeling and warn them of the danger signs. NARI Tampa Bay also asked for the ad campaigns to educate those who wish to operate a business in the construction and remodeling industry on the licensing requirements, procedures and resources available to become properly licensed and insured for their respective business types. The meeting was very productive with the Deputy Attorney General pledging to work with NARI and also make introductions to a number of Florida law enforcement associations where NARI can continue to develop partnerships.
NARI Tampa Bay is taking an active role in combating unlicensed activity but more importantly, wishes to be a resource for homeowners and professionals in the construction industry.