There is no awning sheltering the back patio of Joseph Angeli's Kennewick home.
And now Angeli is out about $1,500 because the contractor he hired was unlicensed and not bonded.
Experiences such as Angeli's explain why officials recommend homeowners do their homework before hiring a contractor.
Angeli said he hired Luis Tavares of L T Construction in July to build the awning. He paid half in advance after Tavares told him he needed to buy the materials.
Tavares poured the cement for Angeli's patio, so Angeli said he trusted the Pasco man to complete the job.
But the project was never started. Instead, Tavares gave a litany of excuses, Angeli said.
L T Construction is not registered as a business with the Secretary of State or the state Department of Revenue, according to the state's online database of corporations.
Unfortunately, a large number of unlicensed contractors work in smaller areas and towns, said Mitch Nickolds, Pasco's inspection services manager. And many try to convince homeowners that no building permit is necessary.
In the Tri-Cities, contractors must also have a city business license to do work within city limits.
Among the common examples of unlicensed contractors are those who offer to resurface driveways, shingle roofs with what they claim are extra supplies from another job, or go door-to-door trying to convince people to buy new windows.
The homeowner can be left with an improperly done project, such as windows that provide such poor insulation that they must be replaced, Nickolds said.
"It's very, very difficult and expensive to hold these folks accountable after the fact," he said.
Nickolds urges homeowners to contact the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities and ask for a list of its members. In addition to being licensed and bonded, those contractors are familiar with rules and inspection requirements.
Twice a year, the Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities checks to confirm its members are registered and licensed, said Rene Dahlgren, the association's director of government affairs. The association's membership directory is available online and at its office.
The association also has resources for homeowners who are researching contractors or planning to act as their own builders, Dahlgren said.
Homeowners should get everything in writing, verify the contractor is registered and follow up with references, Dahlgren said.
Other important steps include checking with the state Department of Labor & Industries and the Better Business Bureau to see if complaints or judgments have been filed against the company, Dahlgren said.
People also should be cautious about paying for work that isn't completed or making large deposits, Dahlgren said.
Angeli still hasn't recovered his deposit of $1,500, even after receiving a Benton County District Court judgment for the money Oct. 7.
Tavares told the Herald this week he was licensed because he was working through another company.
Tavares also claimed he was appealing the judgment, but district court records showed no appeal this week. He declined to provide any more information to the Herald.
Angeli said he wants to see justice and get his money back, but said he's out of legal options. He said he has called police and filed complaints with L&I and the Better Business Bureau.
Elaine Fischer, an L&I spokeswoman, said Angeli's complaint is among eight that have been filed with her office against Tavares since 2009. He has been fined for working without being registered as a contractor.
One of the first things a homeowner should do is check with the state to make sure the contractor is registered, Fischer said. Search by using the contractor's registration number or their name to confirm that the contractor is licensed and bonded.
If the contractor isn't in the database, that's a "red flag" people shouldn't go any further, she said. There are about 52,000 contractors in the state who are licensed and bonded.
If the contractor isn't bonded, a homeowner has no recourse if trying to recover their money, Fischer said. With a bond, the court can award a judgment from the bond and the bonding company will pay.
Checking that a contractor is registered provides some protection, but it doesn't protect against fraud or guarantee the person is a skilled craftsman, Fischer said.
That is why references are important, she said.
She also suggests homeowners interview several qualified contractors and receive written bids. They should review all of the aspects of the bid, including the materials, time, if the contractor is bringing other workers and whether the company has worker's compensation, Fischer said.
Choosing a contractor can involve considerable work, but Fischer said that is easier than trying to recover money from a bad one.
Angeli said he wishes he made sure Tavares was registered as a contractor with the state before hiring him for the project.
He doesn't want anyone else to repeat his mistake.
He also said he wishes he had gone with a higher priced contractor who was licensed -- rather than Tavares.
"Sometimes you have to spend money to get what you want," he said.
CHECK BEFORE YOU HIRE
* Better Business Bureau, www.spokane.bbb.org. Search for businesses to see if complaints have been registered.
* The Home Builders Association of Tri-Cities, www.hbatc.com. Click on Consumer Information for tips about hiring a contractor or being your own contractor. Click on "Find A Member" for the association directory.
* The state Department of Labor & Industries, http://1.usa.gov/tradehire. It includes tips and searches to confirm if a contractor is licensed, bonded and has violations.