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What Are Washington Contractors?

The Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (L&I Department) is the body responsible for licensing and regulating over 60,000 registered contractors in the state. A contractor in Washington State is any person, company, or entity that submits a bid, offers, or undertakes to perform any construction, repair, alteration, or improvement of any structure including, but not limited to, a building, railroad, highway, roads, or any attachments to real estate. Per the state’s Registration of Contractors Law, all contractors that intend to do business in Washington State are required to register with the L&I Department and obtain a contractor license. However, exemptions are made for certain individuals, including registered or legal owners performing construction, improvements, repairs, or alterations on their personal property.

Note that contractors are not the only professionals required to be licensed in Washington. Accordingly, engineers and land surveyors must be licensed by the Washington State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers & Land Surveyors, while accountants must be licensed by the Washington State Board of Accountancy. Similarly, the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) licenses and disciplines attorneys in the State of Washington.

Tips for Hiring a Contractor in
Washington State

When planning a property-related project such as home repairs or improvement, you may require the services of a contractor. Hiring a competent contractor is important in ensuring a quality job is done at a reasonable cost and with little or no issues. Accordingly, below are some helpful tips that can guide you in looking for, and hiring, a competent contractor in Washington:

  • Have a clear idea of what you expect from the project.
  • Consider estimates from multiple contractors. This helps you have a general idea of the average cost for the project.
  • Develop a budget.
  • Ensure the contractor you pick is licensed. You can verify a contractor’s license through the L&I verification portal.
  • Have a written agreement with the contractor which spells out the contractor’s duties, contains a description of the job, the wage payment structure, and other important considerations. You should typically hire the services of an attorney with regards to the agreement. However, note that the L&I Department requires contractors to provide a Model Disclosure Statement Notice to Customers for residential projects with a total cost of $1,000 or more.
  • Do not make full payment to the contractor until the project is completed to your satisfaction, as contained in the written agreement.
  • Avoid making substantial down payments. While Washington State does not have a down payment law, contractors can rightfully ask for an initial payment to obtain materials and begin work. However, the down payment should not be a large portion of the project’s total cost and ensure the contractor provides a detailed breakdown of how any requested down payment will be used.
  • Make payments with checks, as opposed to doing so with cash. Check payments are easier to document and verify.
  • Keep a record of the project’s development. This includes keeping a file of any written correspondence, checks, receipts, agreements, and any documentation related to the project.

How to Search a Contractor’s License in Washington State?

Requesting proof of licensure and confirming that your contractor has a valid occupational license is an important step to take when undertaking a construction or home improvement project in the State of Washington. You can confirm that your contractor currently possesses a valid occupational license via the Verify a Contractor, License, or Business online search tool provided by the Department of Labor and Industries. As the name implies, this search tool allows you to perform contractor searches by name or contractor/tradesperson license number. Searches can also be performed by the individual’s workers’ comp account ID or WA UBI number.

Unlicensed contracting, or any other violations of the state’s contractor registration law, is considered a gross misdemeanor in Washington and is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, a jail term of up to one year, or both.

How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
Washington State?

Various factors such as the nature of the project and the labor required to execute the project influence how contractors in Washington charge for their services. While contractors may have their unique charge rates for their respective trades and categories, they generally charge an average of $30 and $90 hourly. Below are some contractors in Washington State and their charge rates:

Plumbers
$65 - $90 per hour
Painters
$20 - $50 per hour
Carpenters
$25 - $35 per hour
Electricians
$60 - $85 per hour
Siding installation contractors
$3 - $10 per square foot
Roofing contractors
$150 - $1,900 per 100 square foot
Flooring contractors
$20 - $45 per hour
Maid services contractors
$125 - $160 per visit
Drywall installation contractors
$50 - $60 per hour
Concrete contractors
$4 - $10 per square foot

Additionally, you may require the services of an attorney for assistance with regards to drafting or reviewing any agreement or adhering to any relevant legal requirements. The hourly charge rate for attorneys in Washington is between $100 and $250.

What Are Home Improvement Scams in
Washington State?

In Washington, home improvement scams are the various methods that unscrupulous individuals use in extorting or obtaining money from homeowners. These scams range from performing a poor quality job to hiking the cost of materials used in executing a home improvement project. These scammers are typically unsolicited and usually ask for large upfront payments. Essentially, it is important to consider how to avoid home improvement scammers when planning a home improvement project.

In protecting yourself from home improvement scammers, remember to consider estimates from multiple contractors. This helps to have a general idea of the project’s average cost in time and money. Also, ensure to verify the contractor you pick and put the understandings between you and the contractor in writing. The written agreement should typically contain the description of the project, the contractor’s duties, and the payment structure. Ideally, you should hire an attorney to oversee this aspect. Furthermore, avoid making payments with cash and make them with checks instead. Also, avoid making large down payments. Although it is normal for contractors to request an initial payment to get materials and cover other necessities, you should ensure the initial payment you make is only a reasonable bit of the project’s total cost. Additionally, request the contractor to provide a breakdown of how the requested sum will be used to ensure accountability and monitor the use of the payment. Finally, keep a record of the project. This includes keeping a file of all documentation related to the project, like receipts and checks issued.

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What are Common Home Improvement Scams in Washington State?

Home improvement scams are a frequent occurrence in Washington State. While these scams are targeted at all types of homeowners, they are mostly focused on elder citizens because it is believed that this category of citizens is generally easier to persuade and take advantage of. In protecting yourself against these scammers, below are some red flags to take note of:

  • Uninvited solicitations: Home improvement scammers typically utilize door-to-door and uninvited solicitations. Sometimes, they may randomly contact homeowners through phone calls or emails. Ideally, you should always do proper research to enable you to choose a contractor that can deliver your project within your budget and your preferred time frame. Avoid uninvited solicitations or ensure you properly verify the contractor at the very least.
  • Ridiculously low estimates: An offer that looks too good to be true is most likely too good to be true. Therefore, if you are given a very low estimate for your project, you should check other estimates to know if the low estimate is reasonable enough. If the estimate is still too low, it is better to hire a contractor with an estimate that reflects the average cost of your project.
  • No written estimate: Sometimes, scammers fail to provide a written estimate and charge you far above the agreed fee after the job is done. To avoid such occurrence, ensure your contractor provides a written estimate for your home improvement project and also get a written agreement with the contractor.
  • Large upfront payment: In some cases, scammers request large upfront or initial payments and abscond. Since there is no down payment law in Washington State, you should always make sure that any initial payment is a small but reasonable part of the project’s total cost. In addition, ensure the contractor provides a breakdown of how any requested sum will be used.
  • Cash-only payments: Scammers usually insist on cash-only payments because these payments are difficult to keep records of or track. To protect yourself and to manage your project, try as much as possible to avoid making payments with cash and make all payments in check instead.

In April 2021, the L&I Department released a statement warning homeowners in Washington State to be careful and thorough when hiring contractors for home improvement and repair projects. This statement was released in the wake of several home improvement paving scam incidents, including one where a contractor had requested a payment that was substantially higher than the verbal estimate initially discussed with the homeowner. A similar paving incident also involved another homeowner paying over $8,000 for a paving job after an unsolicited contractor commenced the project before informing the homeowner of its potential cost.

Homeowners in Washington State should always remember that they have the right to cancel any service solicited outside the contractor’s usual place of business that costs more than $25 within three business days. Individuals who have reasonable proof that they are the victim of a home improvement scam also have the right to institute a civil proceeding in the relevant court serving their area of residence. These individuals can also report the scammer to either the Washington State AG’s Office through the General Consumer Complaint Form or the L&I Department through the portal for reporting contractor fraud.

What are Disaster Scams in Washington State?

Disaster scams are typically the different ways scammers use to deceitfully obtain money from homeowners with property damaged by a disaster. These scammers typically offer to repair the damaged property at a low cost and then later charge above the stated estimate. In some cases, they create a sense of urgency, like claiming the property may fall apart soon if repairs are not commenced immediately, request a large down payment, and then abscond with the payment. Therefore, in the aftermath of a disaster, it is important to protect yourself from disaster scammers. Below are some helpful tips to consider when doing this:

  • Have a breakdown of the affected areas and the needed repairs.
  • Get a budget for the repairs. You may need to consider multiple estimates to have an idea of the average budget.
  • Be wary of estimates that are too low.
  • Hire a contractor that is licensed in Washington.
  • Ensure that estimates provided by your contractor are done in writing before the work commences. You should also put any promises and agreements made by or with the contractor in writing too. When drafting this written agreement, it is always a good idea to hire an attorney rather than doing it yourself. If the contractor has a pre-written agreement, it is also important to hire an attorney to help review this agreement.
  • Make payments with a check and avoid making large down payments.
  • Monitor the progress of the project. Accordingly, ensure you keep a file of all the important documents such as permits and the signed written agreement with the contractor.
  • Make final payments after the contractor satisfactorily completes the project according to the written agreement.

If you are the victim of a disaster scam, you can file an online complaint to the state’s Attorney General’s Office to investigate the complaints and possibly sanction the scammer.

What are Common Legal
Work Scams in Washington State?

Legal work scams are the several ways scammers deceitfully use legal situations to obtain money from residents across the state. Common legal work scams in Washington State include jury duty scams, court appearance scams, and spoofed calls.

In jury duty scams, a resident typically receives an email or call from a person who claims to be from any of the state’s courts and further claims that the resident missed jury duty. Consequently, the impersonator requests that the resident pay an amount of money as a fine. This request is usually backed with a threat of arrest. Another common legal work scam is the court appearance scam. A scammer impersonating a court or law enforcement official contacts a resident by email and states the resident has an upcoming court appearance. The impersonator then requires the resident to pay a fee or submit personal information to process the upcoming court appearance. Like the jury duty scam, this request is usually followed by a threat of arrest if the resident does not comply. A third common legal work scam in Washington State involves the scammer using spoofed calls that display the caller ID of a Washington Supreme Court official to contact residents of the state and asking them to provide sensitive personal information for different bogus court-related reasons.

Generally, most legal work scams in Washington State are done through phone or email. Accordingly, residents should ignore any caller claiming to be a staff of a state court and requesting the payment of any amount or submission of personal information. Likewise, residents should be wary of emails stating they have jury duty or a court appearance and they should never open any attachments in such emails as these attachments may contain malware or a computer virus. Residents who receive calls or emails regarding court operations can report this to the Washington State Supreme Court at (360) 357-2074.

How Long Does it Take to Get a License in
Washington State?

The processing period for a contractor license in Washington State varies and is dependent on several factors such as when the applicant pays the relevant fees, submits relevant documents like proof of liability insurance, completes the application form, and satisfies other licensing requirements. However, when the applicable requirements have been satisfied, the processing period for a license may take up to two weeks. Applicants can direct queries regarding the application process for a contractor license to the L&I Department by email or phone at (360) 902-5226 and 1-800-647-0982.

How to Maintain your License in Washington State

Contractors with a valid contractor license are required to maintain the license during its validity period. This is done by having a valid surety bond, general liability insurance, a Model Disclosure Statement Notice, and satisfying any other requirements that may be issued by the L&I Department. Additionally, contractors can update certain license information, such as their mailing addresses or contact information, through various options provided by the L&I Department, which include online and paper update options.

Likewise, licensed attorneys in Washington State are also expected to maintain their licenses. To do this, the attorneys are required to complete 45 approved Mandatory Continuing Legal Education credits every three-year reporting period, inclusive of at least 15 legal procedure credits and six ethics credits. Also, attorneys can update their contact details and other license information, through the WSBA attorney portal. Queries regarding how to maintain an attorney license, or how to update attorney license information, can be directed at (800) 945-9722 or (206) 443-9722.

How to Renew Contractor License in
Washington State

A contractor license in Washington is valid for two years after which it must be renewed. The license can be renewed online, by mail, or in person. For online license renewals, contractors must provide their 12-digit Contractor Registration number, their UBI number, and pay the required renewal fee of $117.90. To renew a contractor license by mail, a contractor must first review the information on the contractor registration renewal card that the L&I Department typically mails to every registered contractor at each renewal period. If the information on the renewal card is correct and the contractor has satisfied the requirements necessary for maintaining a contractor license, the contractor will then mail the completed renewal card along with any required fees and additional documents to:

  • Department of Labor & Industries
  • Contractor Registration Section
  • P.O. Box 44450
  • Olympia, WA 98504-4450

However, if the information on the registration renewal card is incorrect, the contractor must contact the L&I Department at (360) 902-5226 for assistance. Finally, in-person renewals can be done in any local L&I office. Queries regarding contractor license renewals can be directed at (360) 902-5226 and 1-800-647-0982.

Similarly, attorneys in Washington must renew their licenses annually by paying the relevant license fees. Renewals can be done online via the WSBA attorney portal and failure to renew an attorney license before the stipulated deadline may result in a suspension of the license. Queries regarding an attorney license renewal can be directed at (800) 945-9722 or (206) 443-9722.