No one wants to move into a newly built house and have to pay the contractor's bills as well as a monthly mortgage payment.
That was the sentiment of several homeowners speaking at the Provo City Council meeting Tuesday night. Residents were there asking the city for help making sure contractors are licensed and city inspectors follow the building code as outlined.Provo resident Kim Fearneyhough expressed concern about a contractor who is building houses in the Provo River area without a license. She said the contractor listed the license number of another contractor when he applied for a building permit.
"There are laws being broken," she said. "All I really want is to make sure that contractors are licensed. If they are unlicensed and don't pay their bills, the homeowners have to pay. Because they are unlicensed they are not liable to anybody and liens are placed on the home."
Mayor Joe Jenkins said, however, that the city has nothing to do with licensing contractors or with state lien laws.
"Our primary function is to make sure the property is zoned correctly and that there are proper sewer and water lines. We then make sure that it is built to code and passes building inspection."
Jenkins said the city's second purpose is to make sure unlicensed contractors do not perform work in the city, but he said a responsible management employee of a general contractor can work under the same license.
Jenkins said that when a contractor comes in for a building permit the city's chief building inspector, Chuck Hugo, checks a listing of contractors to make sure there is a valid license.
If another contractor is working as a responsible management employee, Hugo requires a statement from the license holder that authorizes the builder to use another person's license.
Fearneyhough said, however, that the authorization statement on the contractor in question was not acquired by the city until Oct. 6 and the building permit was issued Aug. 5.
Orem resident Pat Spencer told the City Council that her daughter recently had a house built in Provo and had to pay thousands of dollars in liens because the contractor was not licensed and left without paying all his bills.
But Jenkins said: "It is not our function to license, and they are state lien laws," not the city's. "Since last week, as far as we know, the homes were built to code."
Councilman Steve Clark said: "It is a state function to police that, not a city function. If they are operating on a bogus license, the state will pursue that. I don't think we can be expected to go out and check every license."
But Spencer said: "As ordinary citizens we have a hard time finding anyone to help us. I don't like the politics in this. We are just plain ordinary people, and all these people are being shafted."
Fearneyhough is head of Home Aid, a non-profit organization she set up 2 1/2 years ago to help consumers with construction problems.
The mayor said the only way to get action is to change the lien laws. Responsibility for liens now flows from the subcontractor to the general contractor and then to the homeowner.
Clark suggested homeowners deal with contractors they know are reputable and invest in a performance-in-payment bond where the contractor guarantees a job will be complete on time and within budget. It may cost an extra $1,500 but is worth the investment, he said.
Bill Fairbanks of the Utah Valley Homebuilders Association said that if the city took a closer look at permits, "that would weed a lot of it (unlicensed contractors) out."
"The concern I have is that I can't compete with unlicensed contractors who don't have to pay insurance costs and keep a bookkeeper and secretary on hand - especially when I'm working with a 1 percent profit margin," Fairbanks said.