The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) is warning residents about an increase in unlicensed plumbers and gasfitters marketing their services in the County. OCP has investigated numerous complaints resulting in refunds of monies, issuing of citations and settlement agreements. The risk with unlicensed plumbers and gasfitters is that they can cut necessary corners, not perform the repairs correctly and even create dangerous conditions.
OCP has noted a trend where Master plumbers and gasfitters are allowing unlicensed plumbers to use their credentials illegally for a fee. This practice is called “brokering a license.” The unlicensed plumbers use the “borrowed” credentials to market to consumers directly and also use them to register with home service contractors or home warranty providers. Those services then send the unlicensed plumbers into homes to fix serious plumbing issues.
In Montgomery County, plumbers need to be licensed either by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC license lookup), or by the State’s Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation Board of Plumbing (DLLR license lookup). Most of the County falls under WSSC’s jurisdiction. DLLR has jurisdiction in the cities of Rockville and Poolesville and areas designated W-4/5/6 or S-4/5/6 in the Water and Sewer Plan.
Investigations by OCP has resulted in three citations issued to Gary Russell Jr., owner of G & G Service Group, Inc. (G&G) of Clinton, Md., which was tried by the Office of the County Attorney in District Court. Russell discouraged a consumer from obtaining a permit or inspection, citing higher costs to the consumer. He claimed that he was required to be at the inspection and that this drove up the price. However, the quoted fee for WSSC permits was inflated and his presence at an inspection was not mandatory. While G&G claimed to have a plumbing license, its owner never provided such credentials. Russell did not provide the court with proof of his credentials.
The District Court found Russell of G&G guilty of the three municipal infractions. OCP’s investigation demonstrated that Russell was operating as a plumber without a license, also misrepresenting the costs and attendance requirements of the jurisdictional permit and inspection agency. After an appeal by Russell to Circuit Court, the judgment was upheld. The Circuit Court ordered restitution of $855 to the consumer and issued an Abatement Order stating the plumber and his business had to cease:
- Falsely representing to consumers through its website that G&G is lawfully permitted to perform plumbing services and work.
- Refrain from a representation that the merchant has a sponsorship, approval, corporation indication, status, affiliation or connection that the merchant does not have.
- Cease from all plumbing/gas fitting activities in Montgomery County and desist from advertising that it is able to perform such activities under any business name until the required professional license is attained.
Plumbing and other home service companies can be creative in hiding their “brokered” relationship. Some red flags consumers can look for to determine if they are potentially dealing with an unlicensed contractor:
- The contractor tries to dissuade pulling a permit.
- The contractor fails to provide a copy of their license.
- They bring a company that the consumer has not previously met and says this second company will be pulling the permits.
- The license they do provide is connected to a business that was not hired.
- They provide the name and license number of a third person and claim to be working under them, but that company was not the one the consumer hired.
- Do you need a permit? Always check with WSSC or the Department of Permitting Services to see if a permit is required for the project and who should (or should not) obtain the permit.
- What level of license is needed to do the job? Plumbing companies can send a “Master” or “Journeyman” plumber/gasfitter alone. An apprentice should never perform work without oversight.
- Consumers should request to see the individuals’ license before signing a contract.