Unlicensed landscapers — oh my!

The Nevada State Contractors Board issued a news release April 7. It was on the same topic as many of the outfit’s announcements.

“Nevada State Contractors Board investigators conducted a sting operation on March 28, 2008, in the (Interstate 215) and Charleston Boulevard area where four contractors were identified for alleged unlicensed contracting activities. Those who received criminal citations and (were) ordered to appear in court for allegedly contracting without a license by submitting bids were …”

Four men are named, one for offering to install flooring and the other three for offering to do landscaping work.

“Contracting without a license in Nevada is a misdemeanor for the first offense, a gross misdemeanor for the second offense, and a felony for the third offense,” the NSCB explains.

That all depends on how one defines “contracting,” of course. If you sign a written agreement with your neighbor to pay him a certain sum once he delivers you a set of hub caps, you’ve just exercised your “right to contract.” It’s unclear what kind of state license either of you would need to enter into this contract, or to have the courts enforce it.

So this board outfit is referring to a limited subset of “contracting” — certain types of construction work undertaken on someone else’s property. Why is that different?

“Homeowners should not use unlicensed contractors because their work is generally poor quality, they are often uninsured and may not maintain workman’s compensation coverage for their employees,” the board explains — admitting, through their use of the word “should,” that there’s no actual law forbidding homeowners from hiring anyone they choose to do some work around the house, whether or not it’s wise.

Leaving that aside, however, the clear implication is that, should one agree to pay the often higher fees of contractors who have agreed to jump through all the expensive government hoops required for licensure (and bonding — funny there’s no mention of bonding, which is often more important but not required), one is at least guaranteed high-quality work, done by professionals who are aware of and committed to operating in compliance with all applicable laws and standards of safety, etc.

But one would be wrong.

In October, Clark County officials tipped off the NSCB to four cases in which licensed contractors performed major renovations at the Rio and at Harrah’s on the Strip without acquiring proper county permits or subjecting their work to a required county inspection. (This was not building some backyard tin shed, mind you, but work that was found to have compromised the fire safety of high-rise tourist hotels.)

Given the alacrity with which the NSCB springs into action when some blue-collar Joe is caught offering to plant some bushes and mow a lawn without ponying up all the required fees to become “state licensed” — all because “unlicensed contractors” ignore laws and safety standards and do “work of generally poor quality” — perhaps you can imagine how hard the board came down on licensed contractors (the very people they’re supposed to supervise and regulate) threatening to spoil their whole protection racket by doing the very things of which they accuse their unlicensed brethren.

Or maybe not.

Because in fact, the board has telegraphed that it intends to do nothing to those paid-up good old boys. Last month, the board dealt with the first of the four complaints by quietly throwing out the allegation against Ford Contracting for any role in renovating guest rooms at the North Carnival tower at Harrah’s Las Vegas.

Chris Denning, the board’s deputy director of investigations, wrote on March 21 to Gregory Franklin, the county’s assistant director of Development Services: “We have determined there was no violation of the contractor’s license law.”

Because the culprit was someone other than Ford — despite the fact that Review-Journal reporters located several men who worked on the remodeling who alleged they regularly saw and interacted on the job with personnel from Ford Contracting?

Or was this finding more in the nature of a technicality — that performing major hotel renovations which could impact fire safety for thousands of guests doesn’t “violate the contractor’s license law,” any more than it would “violate the contractor’s licence law” to commit murder or kidnapping, because there’s no specific wording about those offenses in the code?

It would be nice to know. But board officials argue the panel is bound by state law to not discuss complaints that do not end in a formal disciplinary action.

Wow. But hold on a second — there’s been no formal disciplinary action against the four men “busted” on Charleston Boulevard March 28. So how come the NSCB gets to bandy their names about in public?

Oh, wait. We get it. Those four fellows haven’t paid their protection money.


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