**ACTION LINE: Jail sentence, likely a first in Ontario, may jolt other illegal contractors **
How do you stop unlicensed and untrained contractors from endangering Ontario homeowners?
“I just read your Oct. 7 column and enjoyed it as I always do,” reader Lucio Palazzo wrote. "I’m a Hamiltonian, but lived in Los Angeles for 20 years. My father was a cabinet maker. As a child I watched him diligently study for his contractor’s licence.
“California law required all contractors to display their licence number in all advertisements (such as flyers). Is this not the law here? If not, has it ever been considered?”
Not a bad idea. But the Ontario government does not license general contractors who work on your home. The province says this is a municipal issue. This means a legitimate operator must obtain a licence from each municipality he works in, and that can add up to a substantial sum.
Some operators don’t bother. They figure their chances of getting caught, fined or jailed are very low.
But one flagrant violator is likely regretting that, after being sentenced in a Hamilton court earlier this month to 30 days in jail.
Richard Hazel was also fined $6,250 for performing electrical work illegally and violating the Ontario College of Trades’ certification requirements. It’s believed to be the first time a jail sentence has been handed down by an Ontario court for this type of offence. Hazel was also placed on two years probation.
According to a news release issued by the Electrical Safety Authority, Hazel operated Voltcom Electrical Services of Burlington. He was found guilty of working without an electrical contractor’s licence, failing to obtain required inspections of his work, producing a false certificate of qualification, and leaving behind unsafe electrical conditions at four homes in Hamilton and Burlington.
(Voltcom Electrical Services has no association with a licensed electrical contractor, Voltcom Inc., also of Burlington, says Marc Budgell of Argyle Communications, which handles media relations on behalf of the ESA.)
“Mr. Hazel was previously convicted in 2012 of violating electrical safety regulations at seven sites in the Windsor area and was fined $23,750,” says Mary Zajac of Argyle Communications.
“In October 2013, an ESA inspector identified a renovation in a Hamilton home had been done without a permit and determined upon further investigation that Hazel had completed the work,” the ESA stated. “Numerous electrical hazards were found. The investigation also found that Hazel falsely produced a certificate of qualification.”
It’s a potentially precedent-setting ruling.
“The court has delivered a strong, clear message with this conviction and sentence that repeated, unlawful behaviour that puts public safety at risk has serious consequences,” says Normand Breton, ESA’s general manager, registrar and director of contractor licensing.
Which brings us back to provincial licensing.
It’s a safe bet to say this illegal operator was caught because the ESA regulates the licensing of all electricians in Ontario, not individual municipalities.
Provincial agencies regulate other sectors (car dealers and travel agents, for example) and the Ontario government plans to license home inspectors.
But not the “Jack of all trades” local contractor, even though such firms annually make the Ministry of Consumer Services’ Top 10 Complaints List.
We’ve previously reported there are more than 1,500 licensed contractors in Hamilton, but the number of unlicensed ones is anyone’s guess. It is true they are seldom caught and punished by local authorities.
There will always be con men. Even if we had provincial licences and all contractors were required to print their licence number on all advertising material, some would make up a number knowing most consumers won’t bother checking.
Nonetheless, it’s a concept worth considering.