In Florida, the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) is the agency that regulates and licenses businesses and professionals throughout the state. Complaints against professionals who hold those licenses, including builders, contractors, architects, interior designers, engineers, and building code administrators and inspectors, can result in fines, a restriction of services offered, or in extreme cases, the suspension or even revocation of a person’s license.

Loss of a professional license can effectively end one’s ability to earn a living, so any complaint must be responded to in a serious and meaningful way. Thus, it is highly recommended that if you are a professional in any one of these practice areas and you discover, or even suspect, that a complaint has been, or will be lodged against you, you should immediately seek professional counsel, no matter how small or insignificant you believe the complaint to be.

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Common Construction Industry Allegations and Complaints

The following are common complaints filed by consumers against members of the construction trades:

  • Misallocation of funds
  • Project abandonment
  • Improper licensure
  • Failure to obtain proper permits
  • Theft or fraud
  • Failure of notification to DBPR of past criminal history
  • Negligent building design
  • Negligent construction supervision
  • Negligent inspection
  • Negligent surveying
  • Negligent building site preparation
  • Other design flaws or actions claimed to result in construction defects
  • Negligence resulting in injury or major property damage
  • Design errors and omissions

The DBPR and Professional Boards

In order for a complaint against a licensed professional to be successful, it must be proven that the licensee has violated one or more specific requirements or provisions under that person’s licensure law and/or any rule(s) promulgated by the professional association or independent Board that works with the DBPR to enforce and regulate those statutes and regulations.

The following Boards are responsible for their respective professions:

License Categories:

  • Air Conditioning
  • Class A
  • Class B
  • Class C – Service
  • Building
  • General
  • Internal Pollutant Storage Tank Lining Applicator
  • Mechanical
  • Plumbing
  • Pollutant Storage Systems
  • Pool/Spa
  • Class A – Commercial
  • Class B – Residential
  • Class C – Service
  • Precision Tank Tester
  • Residential
  • Roofing
  • Sheet Metal
  • Solar
  • Specialty
  • Drywall
  • Demolition
  • Gas Line
  • Glass and Glazing
  • Industrial Facilities
  • Irrigation
  • Marine
  • Residential Pool/Spa Servicing
  • Solar Water Heating
  • Structure
  • Swimming Pool Decking
  • Swimming Pool Excavation
  • Swimming Pool Finishes
  • Swimming Pool Layout
  • Swimming Pool Piping
  • Swimming Pool Structural
  • Swimming Pool Trim
  • Tower
  • Underground Utility and Excavation

Electrical Contractors’ Licensing Board

  • Electrical Contractor
  • Alarm System Contractor I
  • Alarm System Contractor II
  • Specialty Electrical Contractor
  • Lighting Maintenance
  • Sign
  • Residential
  • Limited Energy
  • Utility Line

The Complaint Process

While most complaints are handled by the DBPR, such as those against construction contractors, there are several exceptions when it comes to the building and construction trades. For example, complaints against architects or interior designers require that the complainant contact a law firm, Smith, Thompson, Shaw, Minacci & Colón, P.A., which has been appointed by the State of Florida to investigate such cases; complaints against engineers are processed separately through the Florida Board of Professional Engineers and/or the Florida Engineering Management Corporation; and complaints against construction, electrical or alarm contractors with a license called a “registered” license, must be filed with the local government or municipal entity that issued it.

Regardless of the slight differences among the various professions, the complaint process generally follows similar steps. First, the complaint is reviewed either by a DBPR investigator, an investigator from a specific Board, or an investigator from a contracted law firm. This initial investigator is responsible for verifying and collecting information to determine whether or not the complaint can move forward. The investigation will normally include: interviewing complainants, interviewing witnesses, interviewing the subject of the complaint, issuing subpoenas, taking sworn statements, compiling documentary evidence, and preparing reports.

It is strongly advisable that, as a professional licensee, you obtain the services of a knowledgeable and competent attorney who can help you devise an appropriate response to the investigative process. Sometimes, an experienced lawyer can end the procedure at its earliest stage, preventing you from suffering any further damage to your business or professional reputation.

The Probable Cause Panel

If the case is not dismissed at this point because it has been determined by the investigator that a law or regulation may have been violated, the complaint will be forwarded to a Probable Cause panel, made up of members of the appropriate professional Board. The panel will review all of the evidence and supporting documentation. Your attorney is a crucial part of your defense team and you should not attempt to confront the process alone.

A finding of “no probable cause” means that the case will be dismissed. This can occur if the facts gathered during the investigation cannot be sustained or cannot be proven by clear and convincing evidence, or if crucial witnesses cannot be located, or for any other reason that the panel may deem appropriate. In some cases, the panel may decide that a violation did occur but was only a minor infraction and it will issue a “letter of guidance” which is not considered a disciplinary action. However, if the panel believes that a major violation has occurred, it will issue a formal Administrative Complaint against the subject of the investigation.

The Administrative Complaint Process

An Administrative Complaint against you will contain a statement setting out the relevant facts discovered during the investigation, as well as the specific rule(s), law(s), or regulation(s) you are charged with violating. At this point, in consultation with your attorney, you must decide how to proceed. Two types of hearings are available to you – those involving disputed issues of fact and those that don’t. If you choose not to dispute the facts, you may request an Informal Hearing and appear before the appropriate Board which will determine what penalty or penalties will be imposed. No new facts or evidence may be introduced at an Informal Hearing – only whether or not those undisputed facts constitute a violation of law or regulation.

However, if you dispute the facts contained in the Administrative Complaint, you may elect a Formal Hearing before the state’s Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), presided over by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ will hear all the evidence and testimony from both sides of the case and make a Recommended Order to the Board, which will make the final determination concerning any disciplinary actions it may decide to pursue. If your license is suspended or revoked you will have the right to appeal the decision by filing a petition for judicial review. Once again, your attorney is your valued partner in this situation. Make sure you work together to determine the most successful resolution available to you.