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Construction Law Authority / Construction Licensing  / Supreme Court Issues Landmark Decision on Unlicensed Contracting

Supreme Court Issues Landmark Decision on Unlicensed Contracting


Under Florida Statute 489.128, unlicensed contractors have no rights under their contracts or the Lien Law. However, those who contracted with unlicensed contractors, such as owners or subcontractors, retain all their legal rights to enforce the contract and claim against the contractor’s bond. A common defense raised by the unlicensed contractor to claims of unlicensed contracting was that the party with whom they contracted knew the contractor wasn’t licensed and therefore ought not benefit in a legal action from the lack of licensure. The validity of this defense was an unresolved issue until the Florida Supreme Court ruled last week in Earth Trades, Inc. v. T&G Corp., Case No.: SC10-1892 (Fla. January 24, 2013) [citation pending]. In that case the Supreme Court held the legislature put the burden of licensure on the contractor, not those with whom the contractor contracted, and therefore only the contractor bears the ramifications of unlicensed contracting regardless of whom else may have acquiesced to, or knew about, it.


Although not as clearly stated, this opinion also appears to make an unlicensed subcontractor solely responsible for its lack of licensure, even if the contractor that hired them knew of the lack of license. Previously, courts were split about whether a contractor could avoid its payment obligations to an unlicensed subcontractor, because some courts feared such an outcome would encourage contractors to hire unlicensed subs. The Supreme Court appears to rule that the contractor may indeed avoid any obligations under the contract with an unlicensed sub, since 489.128 requires the sub to be licensed and puts the ramifications of unlicensed subs solely on the subs.

Lee Weintraub

At age 46, Lee Weintraub was the youngest recipient ever of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Bar’s Construction Law Committee. Mr. Weintraub is also an adjunct professor of law at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law teaching construction law. Mr. Weintraub has been recognized by Chambers USA – America’s Leading Business Lawyers every year since 2003. Chambers USA noted he focuses on licensing and construction defect litigation, but is particularly renowned for his expertise in the Construction Lien Law. He was also selected in the The Best Lawyers in America© every year from 2006 through 2018.

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