The Sarasota real estate market is in a state of constant flux. At certain points in recent years, the market was so hot that flippers and prospective landlords were buying up properties as fast as they could get their hands on them. Flippers in particular were purchasing homes, renovating them and reselling the property, sometimes even before their deed of ownership was officially filed. In some cases, the work was being done without a professional contractor.

The fact that homes were being “renovated” so quickly rightfully gave many people pause, worrying if the work was done correctly and legally. At West Coast Design Build Florida we are often on the front lines, seeing the aftermath of some shady contractors and substandard work. In order to help you to understand some of the problems and pitfalls of un-permitted work, we would like to present the following real life case studies.

If you have a question regarding renovating or remodeling your Sarasota home, we are happy to help.

Why a Professional Contractor is Needed – Case Studies

Case Study 1:  Several years ago, a woman from Vermont who had purchased a Sarasota home contacted West Coast Design Build Florida. She told us she was looking for a licensed general contractor to help her with a problem she encountered with Sarasota County Code Enforcement.

The home she had purchased as a rental property had been renovated  prior to purchase without the benefit of necessary permits and inspections – and now Sarasota County was holding her liable.  The option presented to the homeowner was to have a licensed professional contractor substantiate the work was compliant or remediate the work to make it compliant. As a penalty, the “post-permits” would cost 3 times the normal cost.  Until the above took place and she was compliant, she was threatened with a daily fine. It is easy to see why she was distraught and looking for our assistance.

It was determined that the non-permitted work was performed by the flipper/realtor, using the MLS to see pre-renovation photos and Google maps to see the current state of the remodeled home. The work had included the razing of an outbuilding, a new roof on the main home, new windows and doors, and electrical/ HVAC work. All of these projects require a permit and licensed professional contractor to do the work. However, on the Seller’s Disclosure the buyer had reviewed, the Seller did not notate the work. They instead utilized a common flipper strategy, indicating that their knowledge of the property condition was N/A, since they never lived in the home.

She had purchased the home with a mortgage, meaning she had gone through a formal review, title search and mortgage qualification. Because the home buyer had followed all the rules, we recommended she call an attorney rather than a contractor. In the end, Code Enforcement turned their focus to the realtor/flipper, who was ultimately responsible for all licensed contracting and post-permit fines/fees – not to mention being in legal and professional hot water.

Case Study #2: West Coast Design Build Florida was approached for advice by a licensed general contractor under contract to renovate and remodel an Anna Maria home. The work included new windows, new electrical, new plumbing, and relocating some structural walls. All of these projects require a licensed contractor and the correct permits and inspections, however the homeowner was asking about forgoing the permit to keep tax values lower.

We strongly recommended the GC not do the work without proper permitting, indicating that if the homeowner was ever going to sell, the contractors reputation and license would be in jeopardy. However, with the homeowner pledging he had no plans to sell, they went ahead with the project.

Several years later, the homeowner was offered a large sum of money for the home, and decided to sell. Once the buyer did their due diligence, they discovered none of the major work was permitted. The homeowner and the contractor had to pull the post-permit, get the licensed professionals into the home to confirm and correct compliance, and pay the fines and fees.

Case #3: Unfortunately for many, the penalty doesn’t end with fines or fees. Recently a colleague was arrested for “contracting without a license”

It is important to point out that contracting without a license is not illegal per se. Painters, tile installers, and cabinet and countertop craftsman do not require a license to work. However, when work requires a permit or requires a licensed contractor, an unlicensed contractor cannot apply for the permit, nor schedule licensed contractors such as plumbers, electricians and AC contractors. This is considered contracting without a license, and it is a crime. There are several Sarasota news stories each year, as police conduct “stings” to catch people operating improperly.

Our colleague was subcontracting for an unlicensed contractor; who was in turn subcontracting for a licensed contractor. Because the subcontractor was scheduling plumbers and electricians and getting them paid, he was arrested for “contracting without a license”. In Sarasota, this is a 3rd degree felony and carries a $2500 fine. The “middleman” subcontractor was also arrested and fined $5,000.

Finally, the licensed contractor who was awarded the original job was arrested for violating his oath and the laws which manage his license.

The Takeaways

Although you may be tempted to try to get away with shortcuts, hiring a licensed general contractor is always your best avenue.

Not only will you stay out of legal or financial trouble down the road – but you will protect yourself from a substandard quality of work. At West Coast Design Build Florida, we pride ourselves on doing everything correctly – from the permitting to the installation. You never have to wonder about your renovation when you contract with our professional team.

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