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Unlicensed Contractors Beware!

Florida Statute 489.128 provides that “contracts entered into on or after October 1, 1990, by an unlicensed contractor shall be unenforceable in law or in equity by the unlicensed contractor.”  Furthermore, “no lien or bond claim shall exist in favor of the unlicensed contractor for any labor, services, or materials provided under the contract or any amendment thereto.”

The Supreme Court of Florida solidified prior case law and affirmed Florida Statute 489.128 by ruling that an unlicensed contractor cannot sue for breach of contract, even when he has been wronged and even when the party against whom he is seeking relief knew of his unlicensed status.

In Earth Trades, Inc. v. T&G Corp., the Defendant, a general contractor, subcontracted with the Plaintiff, who was unlicensed under Florida law at the time, to perform work on a parking garage. After a dispute, the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for breach of contract. The Defendant then counterclaimed for breach of contract. During litigation, the Defendant argued that because the Plaintiff was unlicensed, its breach of contract claim was barred under Fla. Stat. 489.128.

Upholding the 5th District Court of Appeal’s ruling in the case, the Florida Supreme Court stated “…the Legislature has imposed a substantial penalty on the unlicensed contractor as the wrongdoer with regard to a construction contract. Under the amended section 489.128, the unlicensed contractor has no rights or remedies for the enforcement of the contract.” The Court went on to state that a party’s knowledge that a contractor or subcontractor does not hold the state-required license to perform the construction work of the contract is legally insufficient to establish the defense that the parties stand in pari delicto (both parties are wrongdoers).

Unlicensed contracting is a crime for which a first offense is a first-degree misdemeanor and a second is a third-degree felony. § 489.127(2)a-b, Fla. Stat. (2013). In addition, DBPR may impose a fine of $10,000 on any person found guilty of unlicensed contracting. § 489.13(3), Fla. Stat. (2013).

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