Portland couple learns painful contractor licensing lesson

Portland couple learns painful contractor licensing lesson

Two major remodeling jobs in two years. It's not what Glenda Hughes and her fiancé, Bill Gollhofer, had in mind when they decided to renovate their early 1950s home near Portland.

But the couple says shoddy work forced them to scrap much of the first renovation and start over. That included replacing $28,000 in custom kitchen cabinets that Hughes says were poorly crafted, as well as ripping out a $15,000 marble countertop that had an uneven and streaky surface.

"It wasn't a high-end remodel," Hughes says. "It looked like we spent a couple thousand dollars and hired the cheapest labor."

They lodged a complaint with the Oregon Construction Contractors Board and learned that some of the contractors they hired weren't licensed.

While hiring a licensed contractor doesn't guarantee quality work or service, it does offer homeowners protection, says Gina Fox, a CCB spokeswoman. In Oregon, anyone who performs construction work for money must be licensed through the CCB. Some tradesmen, including electricians and plumbers, need additional state licenses on top of the CCB's to work in their field.

An active license ensures a contractor is bonded, and carries liability insurance and workers' compensation. "If a homeowner has a problem with an unlicensed contractor, it usually means the homeowner is left with accidental damage, an incomplete or poorly done job," Fox says. "Without a bond or insurance, the contractor will probably be unable to compensate for the damage."

The CCB also helps homeowners resolve disputes - but only with licensed contractors. Homeowners have a year from the time a job wraps up to file a complaint and seek mediation.

Hughes and Gollhofer were out of luck there. The first cabinetmaker they hired - Sheldon Sloan with Mountainside Woodworking Inc., in Corbett, Ore., was operating without a license when they hired him in 2007, according to the CCB.

Dissatisfied with his work, they say they fired him. Sloan's wife, Shawn, declined to comment on the allegations, saying the company is now out of business.

The couple then hired Kai Furhmann with Master Furniture Makers in Portland. A craftsman who mostly makes freestanding furniture, Furhmann says he took over the job on a day's notice and wasn't aware at the time that he needed a license to work on the cabinets or to attach built-in furniture in the couple's home.

"I don't need a contractor's license to build furniture," Furhmann says. "I've since learned that if you attach something to the wall, even put a knob on a cabinet door, you need a license."

With the second renovation, Hughes and Gollhofer are checking that every contractor is licensed, cross-checking references, consulting Angie's List for reviews and poring over every invoice. "I think our general contractor thinks we're a little neurotic," Hughes says. "We're just trying to be smarter this time around."

You can check the licensing status of Portland-area companies online or by phone. Log in to angieslist.com for more details.


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