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Help protect yourself from unscrupulous contractors

Unprofessional professionals are beginning to pop up in Johnson County as residents turn to around-the-house projects that occupy their free time and weekends.

Certainly a little help wouldn’t hurt, but homeowners should be careful whom they hire. Too often, they are left with shoddy home repairs, incomplete work, poor cleanup after the project is done or higher bills for unneeded or more expensive materials.

The Johnson County Contractor Licensing program of the Department of Planning, Development, and Codes provides up-to-date contractor listings. One of the many reasons the program was established was to protect public welfare by assuring that those undertaking the construction, alteration, repair or demolition of structures are licensed to perform such services in Johnson County.

The program is responsible for issuing and tracking 10 types of construction contractor licenses. In doing so, it establishes and maintains minimum standards for licensing contractors and provides quality continuing education to enhance contractor knowledge of building codes. The program teaches contractors local, national and international building codes.

The Contractor Licensing program provides a list of contractors by their license type, including electrical, mechanical, plumbing, roofing, framing, swimming pools/spas and other residential home improvements. The list only includes licensed contractors with an “active license.”

Licensed contractors must provide evidence of insurance to obtain and maintain a license to do work in Johnson County. They must keep in force a policy of general liability insurance, including completed operations coverage.

Some home improvements require a building permit from the local city or county jurisdiction. A building permit ensures an independent, third-party construction expert working for residents by periodically inspecting their project. If a permit is required, residents should require that the contractor gets the permit. They should not hire contractors who suggest it will save time or money to avoid the permit and inspection process.

Our Contractor Licensing program offers two ways to check a Johnson County contractor’s license status. One is by calling 913-715-2233. Although staff cannot recommend contractors, they will be happy to verify the status of any license.

The other way to check a contractor’s license status is using the licensed contractor search feature on the program’s webpage that’s accessible through the county’s website at jocogov.org.

In selecting a contractor, Consumer Reports offers a few tips for getting the right deal regarding home improvements:

  • Homeowners are encouraged to get multiple estimates for their projects. If bids vary wildly, find out why — don’t assume the lowest price is the best deal.
  • Homeowners should also check references, which the contractor should provide.
  • A written contract is a must, noting every detail about the job, including materials, cleanup details, warranties and a payment schedule.
  • Never pay in cash or pay up front for work to be done and be sure to get a signed receipt.
  • Don’t make the final payment or sign a final release until you are completely satisfied with the work; delay the final payment until the building permit has final inspection approval.
  • Finally, homeowners should know their rights. The Federal Trade Commission has established a rule for a cooling-off period for canceling some home improvement contracts. The rule and state laws may allow homeowners to cancel a contract within a certain amount of time (usually three business days) after contract approval by giving written notice to the contractor or lender. Such laws also usually require that a written notice of these rights and a cancellation form be given by the contractor to the property owner at the time of agreement.

Any suspicious activity involving possible scams or home repair fraud should be reported to the Johnson County District Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division at 913-715-3003. Valuable information is accessible at da.jocogov.org.