PEARLAND, Texas – The state of Texas is cracking down on unlicensed contractors, setting up an undercover sting to stop them before they're hired. Channel 2 Investigator Jace Larson went along.
Home improvements like plumbing, roof repairs, even new pools, are big decisions with thousands of dollars at stake.
When fire ripped through Vicki Veal's upstairs, she thought she'd be able to get it repaired because she had insurance and hired a contractor. But four years later, she's still left with a problem.
"At this point, my house is not repaired," Veal said. "Yes, we are (four years after the fire). It's terrible."
The subcontractors Veal hired didn't know what they were doing and lacked something very important.
"They had to put in a circuit breaker, but they were not licensed," Veal said.
Her circuit breaker is overloaded, putting her at risk for another fire.
The contractor she hired was Floor Spring Designz off FM 529 in Northwest Houston.
"They caused more damage with the plumbing," Veal said. "It caused an overflow in another bathroom in my home."
She could never make the company fix everything, but she got the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation to investigate.
TDLR found that the company offered to perform unlicensed air conditioning and electrical contracting. The fine for doing so is $6,500.
Last year, the owners dissolved the company.
When Channel 2 showed up at another company owned by the same people, they denied doing anything wrong and asked us to leave.
"They got more than $10,000 from us, and my home still looks like this," Veal said.
"Unfortunately, we have seen house fires," said Susan Stanford of the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. "We've also seen deaths occur."
In 2013, Raul Hernandez Martinez died after unlicensed contractors botched an electrical job at the Hilton Westchase. Martinez was electrocuted in the hotel's pool.
The state licensing department hears other horror stories. They warn homeowners not to think their home insurance covers them.
"Some home policies won't cover any damage that's done by an unlicensed service provider," Stanford said.
To combat unlicensed contractors, the state sets up stings like the one in Pearland last month. Contractor after contractor offered to do electrical and air conditioning work, even though the state said they don't have a license.
The state says each of these people is breaking the law and can expect to be fined hundreds or even $1,000. When confronted, each contractor claimed to be legitimate.
"We're still at this point trying to get our home repaired," Veal said.
Veal has money to fix the damage, but she's hoping she'll eventually find a contractor who she feels she can trust to do a good job at a fair price.
Without a state license, there's no guarantee contractors have important insurance or training. You can look up someone's name to see if they have a license. To see if someone is licensed, visit TDLR’s license lookup here.
If you have a tip for investigative reporter Jace Larson, send him a tweet @JaceLarson or a text message at 832-493-3951.