I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ License

First uttered in 1948 by the bandit leader Gold Hat, (portrayed by Alfonso Bedoya), to Fred C. Dobbs (Humphrey Bogart) in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the actual quotation is “I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges.” But since contractors don’t get badges, only licenses, I thought I’d make the phrase more relevant. And, just as Fred C. Dobbs wasn’t fooled for one single minute by these ruffians without proper credentials, neither should you fall prey to their machinations.

Unfortunately, during the prior “economic slow-down”, over 400,000 construction workers lost their jobs. Giving each one of them the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume that they are all hard-working craftsmen who are experts in their chosen field. With no jobs available in their specific area of expertise, many are marketing themselves as contractors, and who can blame them – they need to work. But even a master carpenter is usually not well versed in all the other aspects of contracting, such as business management, scheduling, designing, planning, electric, plumbing, etc., etc. It takes a lot more than experience in one area of building or remodeling to be a successful contractor, and your Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) is well aware of this. That’s why they require contractors to be licensed.

You can check the reputation of a licensed contractor by contacting the DCP and the Better Business Bureau. And, in some areas, you can quickly see how long a home-improvement contractor has been in business by looking at their license number. In some municipalities the last 2 digits of the license number indicate what year they first received their license, e.g. WC1234-H95 indicates the company was licensed in 1995. As I’m a firm believer in “Experience is the Best Teacher”, when you’re ready to remodel, select a firm that’s been around for a while and has a proven track record. Especially in crowded suburban areas, which have numerous, independent building departments, each with their own rules and regulations.

Besides experience, the DCP also requires that licensed contractors maintain current worker’s compensation, disability, liability and vehicle insurance. This protects the consumer from any financial exposure due to accidents that occur, on their property, during the course of a remodel. If a worker without insurance gets hurt while working at your home, YOU may be responsible for their medical and disability payments for a long time to come. And beware, there’s a loop-hole in the New York State Worker’s Compensation insurance law! If a contractor (even one who is licensed) is the sole employee of their company, they can waive Worker’s Compensation insurance coverage; still get their license; and you’re still liable for medical payments if they get hurt! It’s best to ask the contractor for proof of actual coverage.

I know how tempting it is to hire “this guy” you’ve heard about from a friend. You heard he’s quick, he’s cheap, and he does great work. Just keep in mind that there is no recourse if something goes wrong. He may be quick and cheap but can you find him again if something goes awry? Who will you complain to if promises are not fulfilled? Will he be around to honor his warranty? Will he steal your gold?

If you feel the short-term financial savings outweighs all the aforementioned liabilities, I wish you luck. Go ahead and hire someone who has no stinkin’ license. But if you’re looking for peace of mind and long-term contentment, look for someone Fred C. Dobbs would trust: a contractor who can proudly show you their credentials.