There is a movement afoot in the state of Idaho to cut back on some of the requirements associated with getting an occupational license by the state. For the most part, we applaud this effort, particularly when we hear stories about makeup artists not being able to do a bride’s makeup offsite because the licensure requirements mandate that such work be done at a salon.
One area that we think the state should go in the opposite direction — toward greater requirements and licensure — is for general contractors.
As reported recently in the Idaho Press, Idaho is among about half of the states that don’t require a state license for building contractors. The bordering states of Nevada, Oregon and Utah all require building contractors to be licensed.
General contractors in Idaho need only to register with the Bureau of Occupational Licensing. The license exemption is meant to ease entry into the field.
But Idaho has a huge backlog of complaints against contractors, and unpaid fines and fees recorded over the last 11 years exceed a half-million dollars.
Registration does offer some oversight of the industry, allowing for fines or probationary periods for contractors who violate code, but some offenders re-register under different names, and some local contractors are concerned that bad apples who lose their licenses in neighboring states can come to Idaho with a lower threshold for entry.
Licensing for general contractors is more important than for, say, cosmetologists or nail technicians, because the stakes are much higher. Usually, you’re talking about thousands of dollars of an investment for work done by a general contractor. If the work is shoddy, problems might surface later, long after a fly-by-night operator has moved on to the next town.
According to an analysis of the numbers done by the Idaho Press, 2,856 general contractor registrations were issued, and 90 percent of them were approved the same day they applied. In other words, there’s not much vetting that goes on.
And then there’s the trouble with enforcement.
From 2013 to 2018, 1,578 complaints about contractors were received by the board, with 922 complaints were closed with no disciplinary actions. Just over 400 complaints during the five-year period resulted in disciplinary action, with 166 still undergoing investigation, and the remaining in legal review or awaiting final decisions.
Even when there is disciplinary action that results in a fine, the fines don’t always get paid. Just over $540,000 in fines and court and investigation fees from the last 11 years is still owed to the Idaho Contractors Board from contractors found guilty of code violations, according to Bureau of Occupational Licensing.
In addition, this is a public safety issue. Sometimes, the work that a general contractor does could pose a health hazard, like a collapsed roof or floor or an improperly installed furnace or water heater. The state has a vested interest in protecting the public safety. Licensing — and the ability to revoke that license — is a much better way to ensure that safety than merely requiring a registration.
Opponents argue that licensing just makes it more difficult for people to enter that field. To that, we say, “Good, that’s the point.” We don’t want just any guy with a hammer and a step ladder to register as a general contractor, hang up a shingle and start doing business. We want some assurance through a licensing process that this person is legitimate and if a serious mistake is made, there are serious consequences.
As Teri Ottens, executive director of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry of Idaho, put it, “Idaho doesn’t want to put unnecessary burdens on companies, but often it’s the public that is paying for it.”
We applaud the efforts to scale back licensing requirements in Idaho, but general contractors should have more requirements, not fewer.
Our editorials are based on the majority opinions of our editorial board. Not all opinions are unanimous. Members of the board are Publisher Matt Davison and community members Buzz Beauchamp, Nicole Bradshaw, Rex Hanson, John Jolley and Kathleen Tuck. Editor Scott McIntosh is a nonvoting member.