For years, Rocco DiBenedetto has noticed an increasing problem with unlicensed contractors in the Dade County, Florida, area. In fact, the county government ceased enforcement of code requirements for contractors in 2009. So, DiBenedetto, owner of Homestead, Florida-based All Air of South Dade, took matters into his own hands and formed the Miami-Dade Contractors Alliance in 2011, which works to regain enforcement and curb unlicensed activity.

“I’ve grown up in the industry and this has always been a problem. It’s never going to go away. At this point, it’s an epidemic,” DiBenedetto said. “Right now, we’re probably at seven to eight unlicensed contractors to every one licensed contractor. And it seems to be happening just in our area. If you go one county north of us, they have a very robust unlicensed activity taskforce presence. They do monthly stings and are constantly monitoring the industry for advertisements. If you come to Dade County, they’re not doing anything.”

DiBenedetto said he started the alliance because of the inactivity on the part of the regulators. “My goal is to level the playing field for the people who operate honest, legitimate businesses. It’s not fair that legitimate businesses should have to go out of business because they decided to comply with the rules.”

Currently, DiBenedetto is finalizing 300 lawsuits against both licensed and unlicensed contractors.

“We’re going to sue licensed contractors who are subcontracting work that requires a license only to evade payroll taxes and workers’ compensation costs,” DiBenedetto explained. “And we’re going to sue the unlicensed contractors for deceptive trade practices and for advertising themselves as available to do construction work without being a properly qualified construction company.”

These lawsuits all cost money, and, while DiBenedetto said he has had a few small contributors, the large majority of the bill is added to his own business’s operating costs.

“When you look at it, it’s destroying our ability to grow a legitimate company, so I’ve kind of absorbed the cost as a cost of doing business,” he said. “I’ve put most of it into our marketing budget and just taken from my marketing budget to fund the effort.”

“I want to protect my employees, myself, and our ability to grow the business,” DiBenedetto continued. “Right now, people think the cost of installing an air conditioner should be 35-40 percent below actual cost. It makes it hard for us to be a legitimate company. And I’m not saying we’re going to be the cheapest — there are other licensed contractors out there that are going to be cheaper. But, when an unlicensed contractor is cheaper than us because they’ve broken all the rules of running a business, it’s not fair that I have to compete with them just because nobody wants to do their job and enforce the rules.”

Derek Bostick, owner, Bostick Air Conditioning, Miami, has known DiBenedetto for almost a decade and is thankful he is taking on the unlicensed contracting problem. According to Bostick, Dade County is going after contractors’ license numbers for “silly things like not having phone numbers on vans while the unlicensed activity is running around killing businesses.

“Rocco is cut from an ethical thread that most other contractors don’t have — he sees a problem and he deals with it; he doesn’t just talk about it and forget it,” Bostick said. “He’s a very trustworthy individual. Thank God he has the resources and go-get-it attitude. Contractors complain about the problem, but we’re not equipped to do anything about it. Hopefully, he can put some teeth into the issue, because we’re dying.”

Publication date: 12/22/2014

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