Unlicensed contractor scams Raleigh homeowners, gets jail time
Brian Keith Kelly of Kelco Home Services scammed his way through North Carolina and left a path of shoddy work in his wake, authorities say. When they caught up with him, he had racked up more than 45 complaints statewide for his plumbing, HVAC and electrical work. Now he's serving a 630-day prison sentence after being convicted of 22 misdemeanor counts of criminal contempt.
One woman who was a victim of Kelly's describes how he showed up to fix a pipe leaking in the ceiling of her Winston-Salem home. "I took him at his word that he could fix it," she says. More plumbing problems arose from Kelly's work, walls needed to be removed and the woman ended up filing a claim with her homeowner's insurance. The damage caused by Kelly resulted in a final bill of close to $50,000 - $25,000 of which came out of the homeowner's pocket. "It was a horrible situation," she says. "We had to move out of the house. It gives me a headache to even think about it."
"Kelly has taken advantage of a lot of people," says Dale Dawson, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors. "We work with unlicensed contractors to get them licensed. Kelly decided it was easier to work outside the law."
Dawson says Kelly's victims might have saved money and heartache if they had verified the answer to one question: Are you licensed? As he points out, a trade license protects consumers because regulators handle consumer complaints and take action against those who violate standards.
Trades licensed by North Carolina include electricians, HVAC, plumbers, home inspectors, exterminators, landscapers, lawn irrigation, locksmiths and general contractors who perform jobs worth more than $30,000. Raleigh does not require additionaly city-specific licenses.
Not sure if your job requires a license?
"A good rule of thumb is, if it requires a permit, it requires a license," says Dale Dawson, executive director of the North Carolina State Board of Examiners of Plumbing, Heating and Fire Sprinkler Contractors.
The North Carolina board investigates complaints against licensed and unlicensed contractors. Few end up in prison like Kelly. Typically, the boards work with contractors to get them the resources to earn their license. However, exams are rigorous. The pass rates range from 27 percent for electrical to 57 percent for general contracting.
For unlicensed electricians, the licensed contractor they work for assumes responsibility for problems - there are no requirements for reviewing work. The work of unlicensed plumbers, however, must be reviewed by a licensed supervisor.
Dawson says people should be proactive when hiring contractors: "Doing research up front is really important."
"Unlicensed contractors pose the biggest risk and exposure to our industry," adds Richard Glass, president of Clearwater Group Ltd. "They frequently fail to conduct their business professionally. I've repaired numerous projects that were mangled by unlicensed folks."
You can check the licensing status of Raleigh-area companies online or by phone. Log in to angieslist.com for more details.