From shady home repair contractors to people running illegal gambling operations, the State of Florida is engaged in a continuing campaign to educate and protect the public when it comes to unlicensed business activity. To aid in this effort, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation began in 2009 to share their records via a web-based portal – allowing anyone to download and inspect unlicensed activity reports.
This work has helped the home and construction industries immensely, helping to raise awareness of unlicensed contractors and professionals in our own local area of South Florida.
But with roughly 6,000 reports a year coming in, the job of thoroughly analyzing and breaking down the data is a big one. And until now, we haven’t seen anyone tackle the task. That’s why we stepped up and examined over 137,000 records from the state’s database. What we found may raise some serious concerns for Florida residents. Read on to find out more.
Increasing Unlicensed Activity Over Time
With its gorgeous weather and attractive cost of living, Florida’s population continues to rise rapidly. To serve the increasing number of residents, businesses are setting up shop in the state in increasing numbers. Unfortunately, along with legitimate businesses comes a number of service providers who are tempted to cut corners when it comes to taking the proper steps to do business in Florida.
The DPBR reports only 363 unlicensed professional records in the period prior to 1980. That number quickly shot up to 4,186 in the following 5 years. While the number of reported professionals dipped in the early 90’s, the overall trend has been upwards. In fact, we found that the number of complaints has increased by 498% over the past 20 years.
But the records we obtained contain much more detail than just sheer numbers, so we dug a little deeper to answer some questions. Which parts of Florida have the biggest problem with unlicensed activity? And since we’re in the home construction industry, we wanted to know which related industries and business types have the most unlicensed professionals? We found pool repair and resurfacing contractors in the mix too. You can read our findings below.
Florida Counties With the Most Unlicensed Activity
In terms of sheer numbers, Broward County tops the list with 4,636 unlicensed activity reports – almost 2 per day – since 2010. Miami-Dade (with over 4,000 reports) and Palm Beach County (over 2,700 reports) round out the top 3. While these reports do occasionally end up in the courts, they are most commonly resolved when the DPBR issues a final order or citation to the violating professional.
When we looked at per capita reports by factoring the latest county population estimates into our analysis, tiny Glades County topped our list. With a population of under 14,000, and 4.8 reports per 1,000 residents, it holds the most dense concentration of unlicensed activity reports in Florida. Bay County – home of spring break haven Panama City – ranked second with 3.6 reports per 1,000 residents. Just a little to the East, Franklin County came in third in our rankings with 3.4 reports per 1,000 residents.
Fraud Only Gets Worse After Catastrophic Events
Unlicensed contractors are one of the worst perpetrators scamming distraught homeowners in the wake of natural disasters. In fact, a 2011 report from the United States Department of Justice found that 1,439 people across 1,350 cases were charged with fraud-related crimes just from hurricane Katrina and Rita. We fear what would happen in Florida if there were a perfect storm this meteoric rise in unlicensed contractors combined with the chaos and distress of a hurricane.
Home and Construction Industry a Magnet for Unlicensed Activity
Unlicensed contractors are a big problem for consumers looking to take on a home renovation or construction project in Florida. When we ranked home/construction records, we found that General Contractors were far-and-away the most common professionals to be reported for unlicensed activity. While many Florida counties have devoted time and resources to cracking down on unlicensed GCs, others have struggled to find the support needed to tackle this issue.
One development that legal professionals expected to combat these numbers was a Florida Supreme Court ruling that reinforced strong legal disincentives for unlicensed activity. However, the effect of this ruling remains to be seen.
To identify how these numbers have been trending over time, we looked at records per year for every profession in the database. We narrowed down our Top 10 home/construction list to only the 6 categories of contractors where the numbers were trending upwards, and discovered that reports have been on the rise for General Contractors, Air Conditioning Contractors, Electricians and Electrical Professionals, Architects, Plumbing Contractors, and Pool and Spa Contractors.
Reports seemed to hit a peak in 2011, but dipped down again through 2013. Increased crackdown efforts in those years may have played a part in the rise-and-fall. But it seems that state and county officials may have to redouble their efforts, as unlicensed activity reports in Florida appear to be back on the rise.
Local Impact of Unlicensed Home/Construction Contractors
When Floridians hire a professional to help with their home construction project, they’re making a decision they’ll have to live with for a long time. It’s important that they know they’re working with a trusted, vetted contractor. That’s why we started Palm Beach Pool Pros. We’re two guys who love the water, and we want to make sure South Florida homeowners are working with the best home construction and pool repair contractors available.
To Report Unlicensed Business Activity
The DBRP takes consumer complaints online, through a hotline, and via their mobile app. More information can be found at http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/contact.html.
How We Made This Study
We analyzed data from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The dataset we used was extracted on 05/06/2017. We analyzed 42,634 individual records in the State of Florida’s Unlicensed Activity Files, and examined an additional 94,783 records in aggregate over time. These records contain public information on individuals or entities that performed or are alleged to have performed unlicensed activity in industries and professions regulated by the department.
Some records did not include specific county names, or referred to companies incorporated outside of Florida. We excluded many out-of-state records, and where possible, made our best effort to standardize the data by using the ZIP codes provided to populate county names. In the final analysis, a total of 6,274 records were discarded due to incomplete location data.
Per capita numbers are based on projected population data from the State of Florida, which is available in PDF form.
For sections depicting unlicensed professionals over time, we deliberately did not include records with disposition dates from 2016 and 2017 due to administrative records in those years being of significantly lower volume. We believe this drop is explained by lag in reporting, not by an apparent drop in unlicensed activity. We expect the data for those years to “fill out” significantly as lingering complaints are resolved and the agency backfills its records over the next few years.
There were 968 records categorized under CILB/ECLB that we chose not to include in the home/construction groups. Those records likely refer to contractors who have not kept up on the continuing education hours required to maintain their license. This is because the category does not distinguish between the type of contractor or professional being reported, and we felt that a failure to keep up with continuing education was not in the same class as a contractor who is practicing without a license.
State of Florida – Department of Business and Professional Regulation
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