Cincinnati requires registration for contractors
Elizabeth Collins lives in a 129-year-old Italianate house in the Mount Auburn neighborhood that, to put it mildly, needs more maintenance than just spit, polish and elbow grease. "Can you say 'money pit'?" Collins jokes.
To avoid being rooked by shady remodelers, or dinged by contractors without bonding, insurance or a clue what they're doing, Collins scrutinizes her prospects, weighing recommendations from friends and asking about licensing and bonding. But she still isn't sure of herself. Who knows, for example, what that "license" framed on the contractor's office wall means? "Most of them will say that they are licensed and bonded," she says.
Fortunately, the city of Cincinnati has taken some guesswork out of vetting contractors. On Jan. 1, 2008, the city created a contractor registration program mandating that permits for all residential and commercial work within the city limits be issued only to registered contractors. (Homeowners also can pull permits for their properties, as long as they do their own work.)
The city's roster of home improvement contractors is posted at cincinnati-oh.gov. Although registration doesn't guarantee know-how or scruples, it does mean the contractor has met requirements for liability insurance and bonding, plus workers' compensation coverage. The contractor also must be paid in full with the city's income tax division.
The program offers consumers a level of protection against dubious or flaky contractors and gives Cincinnati a more reliable conduit for collecting taxes on contractor revenue, says Amit Ghosh, the city's chief building official.
Say, for example, a carpenter damages a home and then skips out on the job. "If it's a registered contractor, we have quite a bit of info on them," Ghosh says. "We're able to say, 'Here is their insurance company, and this is their address.'"
The state of Ohio offers commercial licenses for electrical, plumbing, HVAC, refrigeration and hydronics trades, and requires that those contractors hold liability insurance and pass an exam. They also receive continuing education to stay current on practices in their trade. The state licenses are for commercial work, but many Ohio communities, including Cincinnati, require contractors in those trades to hold the state license before they can register locally for residential work.
By the end of 2008, the city had registered 1,932 contractors, Ghosh says. The program's "home improvement contractor" category includes workers with a variety of skills, including carpenters, excavators and painters.
With the new program also came a method of enforcement. Unregistered contractors discovered on a job site are given a 14-day notice, which gives them time to register or else face a $500 citation. In 2008, Ghosh says, the city issued 571 two-week notices and 140 citations.
You can check the licensing status of Cincinnati-area companies online or by phone. Log in to angieslist.com for more details.