SAN ANTONIO - A lot can go wrong when you hire an unlicensed electrician or air conditioning technician. A fire, or carbon monoxide poisoning, and you have no recourse if they rip you off.
In a hidden-camera investigation News 4 WOAI Trouble Shooter Jaie Avila shows us how state investigators are cracking down on unlicensed electrical contractors to protect you.
Carlos Arevalo is struggling to open a new pizza restaurant, but he just lost a ton of dough to a contractor who turned out to be unlicensed.
“$14,000, and I only got half the job,” says Carlos.
He claims an unlicensed electrical contractor named Rafael Olivas offered to sell him two new pizza ovens, and install them, plus do other electrical work.
Carlos says after he paid the man the fourteen-grand as down payment, he vanished. Carlos had to buy ovens from someone else. He says all he got from Olivas were excuses.
“Every time he's got a different excuse, he's got to go to Mexico, he needs to do this, and he needs to do that.”
Carlos complained to the State Department of Licensing and Regulation, which runs a crackdown operation every year— to keep you safe from bad work or someone who would take the money and run.
Investigators used a vacant store front as the setting for their latest undercover sting to catch unlicensed electrical contractors. The workers coming here think they're coming to bid on electrical and air conditioning work for a new boutique that's about to open up.
Investigators busted 42 unlicensed contractors in just three days. They're not allowed to take on work or even advertise for it unless they have the proper state licensing. However, that didn't stop them from giving estimates for installing a 220-volt outlet. Some offered to install air conditioning and a big electric sign over the entrance.
After they agree to do the work, investigators back off, and Jaie Avila’s crew move in.
Avila approaches one unlicensed contractor, named Javier Contreras, who just presented a bid to undercover investigators.
“The ladies you've been talking to are actually state investigators. You know you are supposed to have a state license to do any electrical work? The place could burn down, you wouldn’t have insurance.”
Contreras quickly walked out the door saying, “Times are tough man.”
Not all of the electricians bolted.
Eberto Mendez told us he thought he was properly licensed, but state investigators say his licenses expired.
“You're doing a good thing. You are cracking down on people who are taking advantage,” Eberto said.
Then there was Rafael Olivas, the man Carlos Arevalo accuses of taking $14,000 of his money.
Olivas tried to tell Jaie Avila he does electrical work under a partner's license.
“You know you can't bid for the job when you are relying on a friend's license, you're not allowed to do that,” Avila told him.
“No, I understand, but I have this guy, we’re working together, he's my partner.”
I couldn’t seem to get through to Rafael, but maybe the up to $5,000 fine he's looking at from the state will.
That's the purpose of the sting operations: to shock unlicensed electricians into compliance with penalties, and a jolt of publicity.
You can search for licensed electrical contractors and air conditioning technicians at the TDLR website. You can also check their history and make a complaint. Go to... www.license.state.tx.us/LicenseSearch/