We face a lot of competition from unlicensed contractors (via Kijiji and social media) who charge low rates. In this tough economy, if a large company lays off a lot of employees, some will decide to be self-employed freelancers. You should be aware of the potential risks of hiring the unlicensed independent “handyman.”
The Cost Of Doing Business
Unlicensed contractors will tell you they provide good value because they have “low overhead;” that’s just code for not running a proper company. A well run business is a tool that serves many purposes, not the least of which is to protect you (the consumer).
We run a legitimate business with all the attendant overhead costs, like business and property taxes, liability insurance, Worker’s Compensation, Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, not to mention a fair wage for our workers; many fly-by-night operators do not.
Acquiring a business license from the city and maintaining membership with the Mechanical Contractors Association means maintaining liability insurance, being up-to-date with the Worker’s Compensation Board, following good trade practices, and a litany of other responsibilities that proper businesses have to meet.
Permits Are Essential
Without a city license, you can’t pull a city permit. Some might tell you they can do a bathroom renovation without a permit, provided no walls are being moved; this is not true. At minimum, a finishing license is still required to ensure low-lead compliance, among other things. The city can force you to undo unlicensed changes, anything wrong with the installation can come back to bite you when it’s time to sell the house, and it also can be a violation of your home insurance policy.
Besides, some imported fixtures available at big-box home supply retailers don’t actually meet local requirements; oddly enough, they’re legal to sell but not to install. Your licensed contractor will be on top of issues like this.
You’re On The Hook
A lot of people might say “I don’t care, I just want the best deal,” but they’re definitely going to care when a worker gets hurt and they find themselves solely responsible. They’re definitely going to care when there’s damage done to the house and they find themselves without any recourse.
For example, if you’re hiring someone to paint your house or wash your windows, there’s no law preventing you from hiring any individual who wants the job. However, if they fall from a ladder, you (as the employer) could be held responsible; if they break a window they are under no obligation to replace it.
This is part of why limited companies exist: to create a framework of responsibility that protects the customer every bit as much as the worker and the proprietor. If something truly terrible happens on the job resulting in death or disability, the involvement of a licensed and insured company means you won’t be bankrupted by it.
Clever, Trendy Marketing
Some of the commercials you see on television are not really contractor companies, but rather marketing agencies that refer independent contractors. They may use gimmicks like costumes or catchy names. Just be aware that your mileage may vary depending on who shows up for the work. Make sure they are licensed and insured before you let them in your house!
Due Diligence Checklist
- Make sure your contractor has a Worker’s Compensation Board number, and that they’re clean and paid up with the WCB. If you have any doubt, ask the worker to produce their WCB Release Form.
- Ask for proof of liability insurance in an amount commensurate with the value of your home (at minimum). For example, Instant Plumbing carries close to ten million in liability insurance.
- Check that your contractor carries a business license with the jurisdiction you live in. Instant Plumbing is licensed for Airdrie, Calgary, Cochrane, Chestermere, the Municipal District of Rockyview, Okotoks, and we’ll also acquire licenses for other jurisdictions on an as-needed basis. This ensures we’re taking responsibility for meeting the requirements of each of these places. When you hire an unlicensed contractor, YOU are the one taking responsibility.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to check reviews and consult the Better Business Bureau, but current paperwork is where the rubber meets the road. Don’t hesitate to ask for it! There’s a lot of security to be had by doing business with a properly run company that stands by their work. Call us for a free consultation and we can discuss everything your project requires.