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City of Sunnyside aids victim of unlicensed contractor

The price seemed like a good deal, too good to be true.

And it was.

A legally blind, elderly woman in Sunnyside, who wished to remain anonymous for this story, accepted the recommendation of an acquaintance in hiring an unlicensed contractor for roof repairs.

The price was right, all right, but the work was all wrong and the unsuspecting woman ended up with a roof that leaked worse than before.

Already out $1,300, she had to pay to have a second contractor do the job all over again, the right way.

If the story ended there it would indeed be sad.

But the woman's second contractor reported the activities of the first contractor to the city of Sunnyside building department last week.

That's where Mike Storms, a Sunnyside building official, and Andy Stamschror, a building inspector, entered the picture.

"It was bad enough that the kid (the first contractor) was unlicensed, but to take advantage of someone who was unable to inspect the work is awful," Storms said.

Following an on-site inspection by Stamschror, Storms took action.

Using contact information provided to the woman, Storms followed up with the unlicensed contractor and managed to get him to reimburse the $1,300.

"We were lucky," Storms said of the happy ending. "Most of the time the information they give people is false and they skip town after they get their money."

Add to that the fact the contractor paid up. "I told him if he paid her back then we could forego the fines," Storms said.

The maximum fines that could have been imposed were $1,000 each due to lack of a business license, working without a permit and working without a state contractor's license.

The individual still isn't off the hook, however.

"I've reported him to the state and to all the neighboring cities," Storms noted. "I don't want anyone else to get hurt." He added that the contractor has also agreed to come into compliance with state and city licensing requirements.

Storms noted the experience is an example of the perils of hiring an unlicensed contractor.

"If anything happens to them, if they get hurt on the job, you're liable," he said. In addition, any property damages caused by such a contractor would require the homeowner to cover all the costs.

If, on the other hand, a contractor is state licensed as required by law, then he or she must carry a $12,000 bond. Dissatisfied consumers, then, may pursue restitution through action against the bond.

Further, all registered contractors must carry liability insurance.

The easiest way for a Sunnyside resident to know if a contractor is licensed is to contact the city's building department at 837-4229.

"In order for a contractor to receive a business license to work in the city of Sunnyside he must be state licensed," Storms said.

He encourages citizens to report unlicensed contractors, even if they feel embarrassed about being a victim.

"There is no reason to be embarrassed if someone rips you off," Storms said. "They've perfected their act and know how to sell themselves. That's what they do."

Additional information is available on-line at http://www.lni.wa.gov/TradesLicensing/Contractors/ where consumers can see if a contractor has any violations or to verify if he or she is licensed.

A contractor's state registration information is also available by calling the state Labor and Industries' office at 1-800-647-0982.

And, remember, it's better to be safe than sorry, even if the price seems right.

"We hear stories all the time about people who have been taken advantage of by unlicensed contractors," said Storms, who has been with the city for just over 11 years. "So before you hire a contractor, check with us to see if he is licensed."

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