Unlicensed Electrician

Tagi1January 2, 2014

Hi everyone! I have been browsing this site for a year now during the construction of our dream home but this is the first time I have actually posted anything.

We just completed construction of our custom designed home. I just learned today that the electrician that our contractor used is not licensed. I was always suspicious since it was his nephew and he had another "day job" and would only work on the weekends. My question is this - what can I do at this point?

We live in GA and I checked with the Secretary of State's office and all electricians must be licensed. We have noticed that we have some electrical problems already (just moved in two months ago) - lights dim whenever we turn on blowdryer, fuse blows every time we plug in vacuum cleaner in great room, thermostat for heated tile floor keeps giving us an error message. I am still waiting for the general contractor to come back and finish up my punch list and have not paid him his final check. Can I withhold some of the final payment because he did not use a licensed electrician? Thanks for your help.

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Ron Natalie

This is hardly an electrical problem, but I certainly wouldn't sign off on the final completion of the project until I found out if the house is illegally and unsafely constructed. It's not to say that the problems you are having or the use of an unlicensed electrician indicate this, but it's a big warning sign.

I would have a licensed and highly experienced electrician come in and check things over very carefully before signing off on the completion.

Blow dryers are immense power pigs. This is one of the reasons why the bathrooms are required to have 20A circuits. If you're using them on normal bedroom or whatever receptacles, they indeed can cause problems (dimmed lights, tripped breakers). Also they're they have a bad habit of tripping (especially older) AFCIs.

If with a list of defects in hand your GC won't fix them with licensed personal or will credit you with the amount a real electrician needs to finish the right, you'll need a lawyer.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 8:35AM
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hexus

if he wasn't an electrical contractor, how was the electrical permit pulled and inspections done?

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 9:03AM
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petey_racer

Same question as Hex. If your state requires an electrical license then either someone covered for them, or someone is covering something up.

The things you mention are not serious problems IMO. The hair dryer thing could be perfectly normal. Lights dimming is something that can happen in the newest and nicest of homes. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to cure.
And the breaker tripping is likely a nuisance tripping arc-fault breaker.
The thermostat who knows. Could be a bad or poorly installed sensor, or several other things.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 9:50AM
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ionized_gw

How does someone like the OP check the paper trail for electrical permit and inspections?

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 11:20AM
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bus_driver

Frequently the people doing the work will be employees of the contractor. Those employees will not necessarily be licensed themselves. The licensee is supposed to supervise the work. I know of one company with 400 employees and just 3 licensees.
I have frequently corrected messes that employees of that company made. Licensed does not necessarily mean quality but it does somewhat increase accountability.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 11:27AM
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joefixit2

Here a licensed general contractor can use whoever he wants to do the work, and nobody checks up on the subs. If it passes inspection they don't care if Micky Mouse did the work. Kinda sucks for licensed guys like me, but then again I don't work for skinflint bloodsucking generals anyway.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 6:10PM
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petey_racer

"Here a licensed general contractor can use whoever he wants to do the work, and nobody checks up on the subs."

All this depends on where you are. EVERY state, and then most municipalities, have different rules.
In NYS (and PA I'm almost certain) only some areas require an electrical license. In those areas that don't ANYONE can do electrical work, even for a fee. No license, insurance or bonding is required. It's very sad.
We also have nothing to do with the building department. We use approved third party inspectors who forward their paperwork to the building dept.
Downstate NY (NYC/LI) have their own set of stricter rules I'm sure.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2014 at 8:07PM
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hexus

"Those employees will not necessarily be licensed themselves."

not here. Even apprentices must have valid state license to do any sort of wiring. If they are not enrolled in the apprentice program their license is pulled. Meaning you can't just pull a first year apprentice license and then stay classified as an apprentice forever and never go to the schooling.
A journeyman can have a maximum of 2 apprentices working under him on the job.
Permits have to pulled by a licensed electrical contractor as well.
I kind of like it that way here too. Keeps down the fly by night hack jobs like this. There is almost no way this would have happened here, they wouldn't have even energized the service. Granted there's always people that have to go around the system, and some shady contractors will pull a permit and then sell them so someone else can get around it. Which totally boggles my mind that you would have your name on someone else's work, but I know it's done.
Of course you always get the handy man hacks that just do stuff without permits and what not but on larger jobs and new construction there's pretty much no way they can.

This post was edited by hexus on Sat, Jan 4, 14 at 2:38

    Bookmark   January 4, 2014 at 2:26AM
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Tagi1

Thanks for all the comments. I went by the building permit office today and asked for copies of all of my inspection reports and the building permit request. He was required to list all of the subs for the job and their state license numbers. No big surprise after reading your posts, but he listed someone else as the general electrician and low-voltage electrician than actually performed the work. The real kicker is that when I called the Secretary of State's office to verify the licenses of these people who had never even been to my house - their licenses were expired by 2 years. In the state of Georgia, you ARE required to have a license to do any electrical work. I verified this with 2 different people in the Sec. of State's office as well as a licensed electrician.

I plan on speaking to the general contractor tomorrow and letting him know what I have discovered. I also plan to tell him that I am going to hire a licensed electrician (of my choosing) to come in and check the work AND that I expect him to pay for it. What he has done is illegal and I will not have peace of mind until I know that my family is safe in the house.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 6:50PM
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Tagi1

Also, for what it is worth, the contractor did not have employees of a large company doing the work that someone else was signing off on. The "electrician" was an independent guy who works full-time in a whole other field.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 6:54PM
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joefixit2

Be aware that you may have difficulty finding someone to inspect another's work and put anything down in writing. Most of the wiring is now hidden in the walls and can only be seen by opening up boxes and panels. I get calls occasionally from people in your shoes and I have to explain to them that no amount of money is worth me putting my approval on someone else's work, and my insurance company would not appreciate it either. Usually it is a job that was not permitted and they got caught and are now looking for a licensed person to put their name on it. I can only put my name on work that myself or one of my guys did.

You may find someone who will come and look for things that are wrong, but that in itself is a liability as there is no way he can see all of it, and electricians do not carry "Errors and Omissions" insurance like home inspectors do.

Whatever happens I wish you the best, and please keep us posted.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 7:08PM
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bus_driver

"The "electrician" was an independent guy who works full-time in a whole other field."
Absolutely illegal in NC. The offense is called "renting" a license.
Work under a license in NC can be done only during hours in which the licensee has no other employment.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 7:32PM
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Tagi1

I have already spoken with one licensed electrician who is willing to come take a look for me. I am aware that he can not see what is in the walls but I am going to have him look at what he can and test as much out as he can. I will keep you updated as to what happens.

As for my original question, do you feel that I have the right to withhold some of the final payment to the contractor because he did not use a legally, licensed electrician? Or is this something that I should talk to my bank about, since they are the ones who were loaning me the money to build the house?

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 7:38PM
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ionized_gw

It seems like the builder will have to agree to pretty much whatever you reasonably ask. You have him over a pretty big barrel.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2014 at 7:42PM
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hexus

"do you feel that I have the right to withhold some of the final payment to the contractor because he did not use a legally, licensed electrician? "

absolutely! This could actually even end up being a case where lawyers might need to get involved.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 9:18AM
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bus_driver

Remember the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 9:52AM
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weedmeister

I couldn't tell from reading: did the house pass inspection? Do you have an occupancy permit?

    Bookmark   January 8, 2014 at 12:17PM
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Tagi1

Here is the latest follow-up. I had a licensed electrician come out today and check the house. He found several problems. The breaker boxes were not organized correctly (black, white and bare wires all mixed together - he said bare should be on left side and white/black on right). Discovered that not a single switch in the house was grounded. "Electrician" cut off all the ground wires and shoved them to the back of the switch boxes. There were outlets with dead wires leading to them and one live wire just hanging under the house not attached to anything. Outlets in the kitchen not on GFIC breaker. He could tell from the can lights that we could see from the attic that they were not grounded nor hooked up correctly. He is coming back tomorrow with 2 guys to try to correct all the problems. Of course, this is just what we could see.

To answer someone's earlier questions, yes, the house passed inspection and we have an occupancy permit (been living here for 2 months before we found out electrician was not licensed). But we have the "good 'ole boy" network down here and they evidently do not do any type of real inspections. If the inspector had taken off any one switch plate, he would have seen these glaring problems. If he had tested any of the outlets in the kitchen, he would figured out that they were not on the right breakers. It is going to cost me $1200 to have this all corrected (it is a 5,900 square foot house so there are a lot of switches).

I am obviously going to document all of this with pictures and have a report from the licensed electrician as to the work that had to be done. I feel that I should also contact the county and alert them to the fact that shoddy work was done, the inspector did not catch any of it, and that the county never checked the license of the "electrician" or they would have seen that it was not a valid license (and that it was registered to another individual completely!!). My husband does not want to be a "whistleblower" and just wants to get our house fixed and be done with it. I am very torn as to what to do in this case. I feel the county was also at fault for not catching this unlicensed individual and also for passing the house on the electrical inspection. I have a copy of the electrical inspection report and there is not a single thing listed on it. It just says "OK". Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 2:12PM
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ionized_gw

$1200 is for issues discovered so far and will go up as more problems are discovered?

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 2:37PM
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Ron Natalie

I'm not sure I buy the wire segregation issue. The black wires have to go to breakers or nothing works. White wires go to the neutral bus and the bare/green to the ground bus. If the panel is the service disconnect, the ground and neutral buses are the same, so there's no particular reason to segregate them.

Cutting the ground wires off is unconscionable as is the failure to put GFCI on the countertop receptacles. I'd be checking to make sure the kitchen small appliance circuits are indeed not shared with anything else.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 2:43PM
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jreagan_gw

BTW, the kitchen counter receptacles can be GFCI protected by being on the load-side of a GFCI receptacle. You don't specifically need a GFCI breaker. The rule is that they must be GFCI protected and that the GFCI device is "readily accessible" so you can test it monthly. It is common to see two GFCI receptacles on a kitchen counter and several "normal" receptacles that are protected by the GFCI ones.

I'm sure your new electrician knows that and will also check for the required protection for the baths, garage, basement, etc.

    Bookmark   January 9, 2014 at 6:06PM
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fa_f3_20

I'm glad you are able to start getting some of these issues taken care of. That cutting-off-the-grounds thing is typical of idiots that think they know a lot more about electricity than they really do. "What's this other wire for? I dunno, I'll just cut it off to get it out of the way."

    Bookmark   January 11, 2014 at 11:50PM
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bus_driver

I too am reluctant to follow after an obviously apathetic/incompetent "electrician" because it is highly likely that one will not find all the flaws-- especially in a completed house. With most homeowners, the moment the new guy touches the job, it is all his and his responsibility.
So I usually decline.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 8:30AM
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dkenny

given the issue at hand..
I would consider the walls being opened to make sure everything was done
right would in due course..at the GC expense..yes..I do believe his name is on the line here. with complete liability..might not hurt to call his insurance company. if you haven't already..

if push came to shove and lawsuits happened. I would include the inspections department.

ditto on the I don't buy the white/neutral to one side and black to the other..
breakers( normally connect with black wires) are on both sides..some places want the neutral buss and ground buss wires together but not mixed..

-dkenny

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 10:16PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

"But we have the "good 'ole boy" network down here and they evidently do not do any type of real inspections."

Exactly. Reminds me of the "inspection" I had for some plumbing work in my house. County inspector guy didn't even enter the house. He just saw who the plumber was and waved and nodded, then drove off!

"Discovered that not a single switch in the house was grounded. "Electrician" cut off all the ground wires and shoved them to the back of the switch boxes."

LOL. Grounding is a just a plot by the communists, you know.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 3:17PM
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Tagi1

And the plot thickens...just got a call from a local attorney (who is also a friend) to let us know that suppliers started showing up in his office on Friday to file liens against our house for non-payment. We closed on this house on October 30 and the contractor signed a contractor affidavit attesting to the fact that he HAD paid all subcontractors/laborers/materialmen/etc. The attorney told them that the contractor had signed the affidavit and that we were not legally responsible anymore. They will have to go after him. Guess I will be calling around tomorrow to find out how many bills were unpaid by the contractor. This has become an absolute nightmare.

    Bookmark   January 19, 2014 at 8:50PM
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hexus

Now he's committed fraud. He's facing several law suits, from you and all the subs. I'd nail him to the wall for all you can, for the repairs, time, etc... if I was you. People like him make tradesmen look bad.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 8:45AM
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texasredhead

I was in a similar situation several years when the GC hired another contractor to finish our job. Started calling suppliers and found they had not been paid. Went and paid each and got receipts. When the original contractor showed up for his final payment of $5,000, I gave his a check for $1,200 with copies of the receipts. Needless to say he was not a happy camper.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 10:17AM
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Tagi1

I confronted the contractor this morning about the liens that subs were attempting to place on our house. He told me that he only owed $4,000 for the concrete for the driveway and had promised the concrete company that he would pay this week. This was news to me - I did not know that he had not paid the concrete company. I paid him a check on September 30 for the driveway and obviously he did not pay the concrete company. He flat out denied that he owed anyone else money besides the concrete company. After calling around today, I have found 5 subs that he has not paid (and I have not been able to get hold of the rest yet). One called me back this evening and told me that they are contacting the District Attorney's office tomorrow and are going to proceed with filing criminal charges against him. From what I have gathered today, he owes over $40,000 to subs that I have found out about. Who knows how much else is out there that I have not found yet. I can not go around and pay these bills. I only owe him $4,500 for overages and that is BEFORE deducting the amount for the electrical issues that have to be fixed due to the use of an unlicensed electrician.

My husband feels that this is all spinning so out of control that he doesn't even want to bring up the electrical issues at this point. I disagree. I still don't feel that I should have to pay for his dishonesty. We will see where this all ends up. Sounds like the contractor is finally going to get what he is due.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 7:35PM
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bus_driver

Do not pay the contractor one cent more until ALL issues are settled.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2014 at 9:51AM
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fa_f3_20

If you haven't already, talk to a lawyer ASAP. Probably what your GC has been doing is kiting funds between projects. Our builder did the same thing; he was using money we paid him to cover his overruns on someone else's house. He didn't pay some of the subs and we had to finish some work that we had paid for but didn't actually get done.

There's a chance your GC will be skipping town soon. Seen it happen. You need to get some of his assets nailed down.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 9:36PM
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dkenny

X2 on the DON'T pay...

this situation stinks like a skunk..and give all us contractors a bad rep..

i'm not a lawyer..but I think with all the hassle you've been put thru to make this safe and right..when i wants to collect..see him in court..and don't forget to include the inspection department..sound like they didn't do they're job either.and need to be held accountable..you might not get anything, like $$, from the inspection dept..but bad press goes a long way.

-dkenny

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 6:26PM
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pprioroh

Wow, any f/u on this. Terrible situation, but an example of why I was on our build site almost daily when we built our last home.

And we had a very reptuable amish builder.

All outlets with cut grounds - that is just absolutely unbelievable.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 9:53AM
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