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Building: Make Sure Contractors Are Licensed & Insured

Lindsay Myers

 This week’s arrest of a Molino man could serve as a reminder to use extreme caution when hiring a building contractor.

Fifty-one-year-old Kenneth Malarik is charged with felony unlicensed contracting during a state of emergency; felony grand theft and unpermitted construction. Building Services Director Don Mayo says the charges were filed after their investigation.

“We had the evidence in a signed contract [that] was presented to us,” said Mayo. “In order to enter into a contract in the State of Florida, you have to be licensed as a contractor in a particular area: electrical, plumbing, and in this case it would be building.”

A records search determined that Malarik is not licensed by the county or state as a general, building or residential contractor. He was taken to the Escambia County Jail on Tuesday, and released on a $5,500 bond.

According to the arrest affidavit, Malarik allegedly accepted a $5,800 down payment to build an outdoor pergola at a home near Pine Forest High School. When the owner asked about his license, it was said that Malarik left and didn’t return. The homeowner then called Building Services.

“The information passed through me, in order for me to sign the arrest warrant for this individual,” Mayo said. “It was a contract that actually had been entered into during a time of a declared state of emergency, and I believe that did meet that criteria. That makes it a felony.”

The contract was entered into February 23, while Escambia County was under a declared state of emergency because of the tornado hitting Century eight days earlier. However, this project was not in an area damaged either by that tornado, or the one that hit Pensacola on the 23rd.

Meanwhile, the Better Business Bureau warns of “Storm Chasers.”  These are people who drive around looking for storm victims and making deals to fix their property damage. Tammy Ward at the BBB’s Pensacola office says first, check their vehicle license plate.

“Not only check their license plate, check their license and also make sure they’re insured,” Ward says. “It’s very easy to do. Now you can just take their license number, and get their insurance information. You find the phone number, don’t let them give you a phone number to call.”

You can find that phone number either online or in the Yellow Pages, and make sure they’re up to date on their insurance coverage. Also, keep an eye on those claiming to do work with leftover materials from another job; and those without a permanent business address. And get everything in writing before work begins, and don’t pay in whole up front.

“A small payment may be necessary, but not a large payment up front,” Ward said. “Make sure everything’s in writing, but before you sign make sure that if you have any questions about what’s in their contract, that you get those answers to your satisfaction.”

Other advice: avoid high pressure tactics and ask about a warranty. And when the project is finished, Ward says withhold final payment until after inspection.

More information is a www.bbb.org.

And in case you’re wondering, a pergola is an archway in a garden or park consisting of a framework, covered with trained climbing or trailing plants.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.