Special Report: Unlicensed and Unaware
ALAMO – Undercover investigators with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation recently set up sting operations across the state to catch unlicensed A/C contractors and electricians.
Isabel Munoz said he bought a brand new air conditioner for his home after finding a leak in his old A/C unit. He decided to hire a licensed contractor for the installation of the new unit.
Munoz said the technician asked for a separate bill to do another cleaning on his outside unit. He said the technician wanted the check made out under his own name.
But the job was never done.
"It was either no A/C or get an A/C as soon as you can. And I went with the cheaper person and I guess the sayings true, that you get what you pay for,” he said.
TDLR investigators sorted through hundreds of cases of unlicensed contractors in the Rio Grande Valley.
After going undercover with TDLR, CHANNEL FIVE NEWS found out you could deal with shady electricians or A/C contractors.
A TDLR undercover investigator said you could never tell unlicensed electricians or A/C repair contractors could walk into your home or business tomorrow. He said you might not know the difference.
“If you offer and perform the service, then you have to be licensed in Texas to do so,” he said. "If you don't, you’re in violation of our laws and rules.”
CHANNEL FIVE NEWS placed hidden cameras throughout a vacant bank in Alamo.
An unlicensed electrician explained to a TDLR undercover investigator a permit is usually needed from the city. But he didn't need one to get started on the job.
“So, in other words, I'm just running a risk,” asked the undercover investigator.
“You're running the risk,” the contractor told him.
“What do you advise? Would you do it without a permit?” asked the investigator.
“If you don't have time you can do it without the permit. If you have time its better if you do it,” said the unlicensed electrician.
Many contractors can advertise on Craigslist, according to TDLR Public Information Officer Susan Stanford.
“The advertisement has to have their license number on it and if that doesn't happen, that's one of the things that sets a red flag,” she said.
Stanford said the written bid must be in compliance with TDLR requirements. A legal bid must show TDLR's name, address, phone number, license number of the company, their address and phone number.
During the sting, we saw bids on computer paper, the back of business cards and some which look like legal invoices.
Once the bid is handed over, it allows TDLR to open up a case of violation.
CHANNEL FIVE NEWS spent three days with TDLR investigators as they filed 43 cases.
On the last day, contractors came back to the makeshift business to get a contract and check for the job.
Investigators said David Tijerina is licensed as a journeyman electrician.
“If it was a permanent job, I could get my master electrician over here. I was just over here giving the actual estimate under my master's electrician’s license,” Tijerina said.
TDLR said he's considered an unlicensed electrical contractor because he offered to perform services without a proper master electrician license.
Stanford said unlicensed contractors lack the proper education and insurance.
"The danger is possibly setting someone's house on fire and possibly and there will be deaths as a result to that,” she explained.
Another violator, Robert Salinas, who wanted fast cash didn’t have a license either.
Salinas attempted to call his contractor. He said he was also unlicensed and unaware of TDLR rules and regulations.
Investigators also found the company is not licensed in their TDLR database.
Tijerina said he'll work differently and more closely with his contractor.
“I know in the future now, I would just get some letterheads from him and estimate papers; the correct papers,” he said.
The next papers these violators see will be from TDLR. The agency will send out a notice of alleged violation.
The unlicensed contractors could get a penalty up to five thousand dollars.