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The inside story

Knock, knock. Surprise! L&I’s here to sweep up unregistered contractors

July 31, 2014
By Debby Abe

Construction contractors working off the books to avoid tax, safety and insurance requirements don’t stop at 5 p.m. weekdays. Neither does L&I.

For the third straight year, the department is conducting so-called surprise sweeps that build upon our year-round, weekday efforts to check whether contractors are complying with state contracting laws.

During the sweeps, our construction compliance inspectors team up to pay unannounced visits to worksites in selected areas on Friday and weekend days and evenings.

They look for contractors who aren’t registered at all with the state. And, they search for those who aren’t registered for the work they are caught doing − say a registered painting contractor who’s installing drywall.

Infractions for unregistered contractors

Violators receive an infraction that carries a $1,000 fine on the first offense, and heftier penalties on subsequent offenses.

As of mid-July, inspectors had conducted 11 sweeps around the state, and checked 565 contractors. Most of those contractors were properly registered, but not all. For example, inspectors wrote infractions to eight of the 45 contractors they checked during a Kitsap County sweep in mid-May.

Inspectors discover other problems, too, which they refer to the appropriate L&I programs. Sometimes they spot safety hazards endangering workers. They often find contractors who are late paying L&I fines or premiums for workers’ compensation, the insurance that protects injured workers.

Finding dozens of delinquent accounts

A late June sweep in Wenatchee, for instance, netted two contractors who owed L&I a total of more than $190,000. A sweep in Kitsap and Clark counties in mid-May scooped up 17 contractors who collectively owed more than $326,000.

“Surprise sweeps are an effective tool to battle the underground economy in construction,” said Dean Simpson, chief of construction compliance. “They let people know that we’re out there after hours and weekends, looking for unregistered contractors.”

Putting consumers at risk

The problem with unregistered contractors is that they put consumers at risk, and gain an unfair advantage over competitors who follow the rules. Washington state requires construction contractors to register with L&I, carry a bond and have liability insurance, giving consumers some financial recourse if something goes wrong.

And as we’ve told you in previous posts, unregistered contractors have ripped off homeowners, right here in the Evergreen State.

So don’t be surprised if we sweep through your community next.

Surprise sweeps and job sites visited April through mid-July

  • Long Beach (14)
  • Yakima (18)
  • Walla Walla (24)
  • Kitsap County (29)
  • Clark County (79)
  • Kirkland/North Bend (11)
  • Kennewick (87)
  • Bothell/Everett (13)>
  • Pullman (15)
  • Wenatchee (26)
  • King County [Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, Bellevue, Issaquah] (16)



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