AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) put a chill into more than two dozen unlicensed air conditioning contractors in the north Houston area who were caught offering to perform illegal contracting.

Twenty-five unlicensed contractors were identified during an undercover sting operation conducted by TDLR investigators at a Kingwood residence between Aug. 3 and 8.

"Any unlicensed individual who is performing or offering to perform air conditioning contracting needs to be aware that TDLR is actively pursuing them," said William Kuntz, TDLR's executive director. "Undercover stings are one of the tools we will use to either bring them into compliance or put them out of business."

TDLR stated that it will issue cease and desist orders to each of the contractors identified during the sting. The orders require the contractors to stop performing air conditioning or heating services until they come into compliance with the law. Each order will be followed by a notice of alleged violation and an enforcement action that can result in penalties of up to $5,000 per violation.

Contractors who fail to obey a cease and desist order can face injunctive action. Failure to obey a court injunction can result in contempt of court charges and jail time.

Unlicensed individuals who turn themselves in to TDLR prior to being served with a cease and desist order and who agree to become properly licensed or get out of the business will pay a reduced penalty.

"This is a consumer safety issue," Kuntz said. "Unlicensed contractors haven't shown that they know how to properly install or service these units. A unit that is improperly installed or wired can cause a fire or an explosion, resulting in property damage or even loss of life for the homeowner or business owner."

Unlicensed contractors also rarely have insurance, leaving consumers no recourse if the unit fails to function properly - or function at all.

The sting was conducted by TDLR investigators who, posing as homeowners, targeted contractors who had been brought to the agency's attention either through consumer complaints, previous enforcement actions, or research by TDLR investigators.

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Publication date: 09/20/2004