Local 2 Investigates unlicensed contractors

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Classified ads are filled with people offering electrical and air conditioning work. State investigators warn many of the people advertising these services do not have the required Texas licenses to do this type of work.

"They're going to prey on homeowners," said an undercover investigator with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

Local 2 Investigates partnered with investigators from TDLR for a three-day sting operation at a Houston area warehouse. State investigators scoured classified ads and invited dozens of people to come and bid on electrical and air-conditioning work at the warehouse.

"If you were to pay an unlicensed contractor and they take off with your money, then you're out the money," the investigator said. "You could have damage to your home, it could be installed incorrectly. If they don't follow the code, if they don't get a permit, if they don't get it inspected through the city, then they don't have the extra safeguard for you as a homeowner."

During the three-day operation, state investigators opened complaints on 35 different unlicensed contractors who offered air-conditioning or electrical work. Texas law requires anyone advertising, bidding and performing this type of work to have a state license. Texas law also requires individuals offering this type of work to put their state required license numbers on their advertisements.

"If they're not licensed, we don't know if they have the experience, the education or the insurance," the investigator said.

After receiving bids from all of the contractors, state investigators revealed themselves when the men came back to collect down payments for the work. One of those men was Adewunmi Adeniyi, who displayed a state license number on his work truck. A check of state records shows that license number only allows Adeniyi to perform air-conditioning and refrigeration maintenance work under the direct supervision of a licensed contractor.

"You're only allowed to maintenance work under a licensed person," Local 2 investigator Robert Arnold said.

"That's exactly what, I'm under this person," said Adeniyi.

"Then where is this mystery person because you're the only one who has been out here?" said Arnold.

"Any consumer would look at it and assume you're authorized to offer contracting services, that's being a little bit deceptive," and undercover state investigator said to Adeniyi.

Adeniyi only said he worked with a "Patrick" but gave no other specifics.

"I want a license, too. I want the big job," said Adeniyi.

Several of the contractors who showed up during the sting operation claimed they were not the ones who were going to actually perform the work, they were going to have contractors who have a state license come out and perform the work.

"I will sub it out, I don't do the work," said Joe Trevino.

"You're not allowed to even put out the bid without the proper license," said Arnold.

"OK, well, I didn't know that," said Trevino.

Trevino could not offer specifics on the licensed contractor who he said was going to perform the work. Trevino also admitted he had not contacted this person before estimating how much the job would cost.

"If you didn't talk to your subcontractor before you wrote this bid, then how do you how much he'll charge for this work?" and state investigator asked.

"I don't know," Trevino said.

State investigators urge consumers to meet directly with a contractor who has a state license before signing any contractors or making any payments. State investigators said consumers should not rely on a person telling them they have licensed subcontractors who will do the work.

Another issue Local 2 encountered was contractors who presented a valid Texas license that belonged to another person. Harper High presented state investigators with a business card for a company called AC Direct that had a pre-printed Texas contractor's license. A check of state records showed that license number belongs to High's former employer. When contacted by Local 2, the owner of the company said he had not given High permission to use his license. Plus, state law prohibits the "sharing" of a contractor's licenses.

"According to state records, you're using somebody else's license you're not allowed to use," said Arnold.

High declined to answer any questions. Correspondence between a city of Houston inspector and TDLR officials obtained by Local 2 showed High has been investigated once before for the same issue that was uncovered during the state's sting operation.

Contractor Jose Millares-Hernandez also presented investigators with a business card for a company called City Freshair. The card also had a pre-printed Texas license number. Again, a check of state records showed that license number belonged to a different company. When contacted by Local 2, the owner of that company also said Millares-Hernandez was a former employee and did not have permission to use his Texas license number. City of Houston records show Millares-Hernandez had been cited once before for this issue.

State investigators said this is why it is imperative consumers check any contractor's license with the state. In both of the abovementioned cases, a check of the license numbers would have revealed those license numbers belonged to a different company and individual than was printed on the business cards.

Officials with TDLR urge consumers to make sure contractors have a license and then check that license number through the state's online database to make sure it valid, current and belongs to the person who is offering the service.

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