Matt Bishop had a very interesting article in the June 16 issue of this publication regarding contractor licensing. Perhaps the most interesting and perplexing portion of the article had to do with the fact that the city of Miami, as large as it is, has no licensing or control over contractors doing sub-standard work. Here in Missouri, we do not have a state licensing law, but St. Louis County, the county with the largest population in Missouri, does have a licensing law for individuals performing various forms of mechanical work (sheet metal, pipe-fitting, sprinkler fitting, residential HVAC, etc.) Permits are required to be taken out, and the county’s inspectors make a concerted effort to make sure this mechanical work is executed by licensed individuals.

A Cheating Couple

In fact, two contractors were recently cited and fined for not obeying the licensing ordinance. In one case, the licensed contractor didn’t take out a permit and made some errors on the installation. The homeowner called in another licensed contractor in an attempt to solve the problems, and that contractor — attempting to check on the permit — found that the first contractor had failed to take out a permit. The original contractor was fined and had his license suspended for 90 days. Even though he had been operating in St. Louis County for many years, records showed he had only taken out two or three permits. In other words, his philosophy was: Do a job without a permit and hope I don’t get caught. His luck finally ran out.

The second instance occurred when an out-of-town contractor had the contract to do the sprinkler fitting job in a new big-box store. His foreman visited for a final inspection, only to find out no permit had ever been pulled for the work. A stiff fine was the result. One might excuse this contractor because he was from out of town, except an investigation showed that this sub-contractor did work for this big-box company all over the country and was used to going through the process of determining which permits were necessary. My point is that municipalities can and should enforce their licensing ordinances.

Rolling with the Changes

I realize many contractors are apt to fight any type of licensing legislation. I led the fight against that legislation in St. Louis County in 1999. When it became apparent that the legislation was going to pass, despite our efforts, area contractors banded together and worked to obtain licensing that was at least as fair as possible for all involved. At that time, I decided that since we couldn’t beat the issue, the best way to protect ourselves was to be involved in the administration. I managed to be selected as the chairman of the mechanical licensing board for St. Louis County, a position I have held now for 14 years. One of the original major reasons for opposing the law was that it was going to be run only for union contractors. While we are a union HVAC contractor, I can assure you the law has been administered fairly to both union and non-union contractors.

Our boards’ task, in our opinion, is to ensure that only trained, tested individuals, as shown by the fact that they have obtained a license, are installing or replacing HVAC equipment. As we all know, today’s HVAC equipment is not our forefather’s HVAC equipment. The requirements on venting, wiring, combustion air, and other components of the system are much more technical than they were just a few years ago. The need to have trained and tested workers is more important than it has ever been.

I believe that St. Louis County is a good example of an area where a licensing law can be beneficial to all contractors, whether union or non-union, and, most importantly, help ensure the public that they are getting a safe repair or installation.

Publication date: 8/4/2014

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