When you hire tradespeople to work on your home, it’s fair to assume that they are trained and qualified to do the work. Unfortunately, in Vermont, this is not always the case.
Only a limited number of trades are licensed by the state, and most construction trades are not on that list. A person or company can sell their services to you, regardless of their training and knowledge in that specific trade.
Plumbers, Electricians and Inspectors of elevators, boilers and pressure vessels are licensed in Vermont. But most trades, like Roofers, General Contractors, Builders, Excavating Contractors and Masons, are not. You can see a complete list of licensed trades on the state website.
When a someone completes a licensing program, the state issues a document verifying he or she has been professionally trained. And although a license does not guarantee the quality of the work, it does demonstrate some level of proficiency.
On large commercial projects, the hiring company has a “clerk of the works” to ensure that the work performed by all trades is done right. This is not the case for residential projects; homeowners take a calculated risk when they hire a contractor, and that is why you should do your homework before starting any project.
General contractors are licensed in some other states, but not in Vermont. One possible reason is the complexity of designing a certification program, due to the breadth of services we provide on a daily basis. Our hands are on a variety of tasks and it is impossible to have an intimate knowledge of everything. That is why we sometimes use other licensed specialists – like plumbers, electricians and engineers – to make sure these aspects of the job are handled properly. A smart general contractor knows when to bring in the specialists.
So does it make sense to require general contractors to get licensed as well? We think it does for the reasons below.
So does it make sense to require general contractors to get licensed as well? We think it does!
By licensing GCs, Vermont would have a trackable database of registered workers. This would prevent tax avoidance and create a level playing field for all contractors. It would also help enforce standards of conduct among people in our industry. If someone is bidding on your project and they haven’t cleared the first hurdle of establishing a legitimate business – like getting a license from the state – you probably wouldn’t want that person working on your house.
We remember a contractor that was eventually banned from doing professional home improvement work in Vermont after 8 YEARS of defrauding customers. If that person had needed a license to operate, the state could have revoked certification years earlier, sending up a red flag to homeowners about the possibility of getting scammed.
A license should be a part of the vetting process for homeowners. Right now, there is virtually no way people can find out about fraud claims against their contractor, and they have little recourse after the damage is done. Home improvement fraud is a severe problem. Requiring licenses gives the state a way to track who is doing the work and enforce penalties for workers that don’t fly straight.
We believe this step would go a long way toward improving the reputation of general contractors in Vermont. We know many honest, hardworking professionals in this trade; their reputations should not suffer from the actions of a few bad apples.
It is true that the state of Vermont cannot guarantee quality work, nor should we expect them to. But they can require GCs to join a state registry, pay admission fees, and risk having their license revoked for unethical practices. That would be a significant step toward protecting consumers and reinforcing confidence in the professionals that put their hearts and souls into the work.