Probably one of the most time consuming occupational hats that I wear as the person in charge of making sure that our crews are servicing our clients properly is driving around in a vehicle doing just that, observing. I observe many things from what our service area clients yards look like to checking to make sure that our crews are doing the little things like how they are parking, how they unload their equipment, are they properly cleaning up, the list goes on. I also have the opportunity to observe the competitors that are also working in our service district, what they are doing and how they are conducting their business.
Construction Landscape Professionals vs. Landscape Maintenance Companies- there is a huge difference between these two types of businesses. A professional CLP company is an organization that has passed certain State of Oregon Board license requirements, obtains State Licensing, acquires a State Bond requiring good credit, obtains Liability Insurance and State Accident Insurance should they be hiring employees.
Most landscape maintenance companies that I see do not have any of the above qualifications yet they will advertise illegally that they are a landscaper doing all kinds of landscape installation as well as maintenance. I recently contracted with a condominium landscape maintenance account that had a previous landscape maintenance company for a few years. They allowed them to do all sorts of landscape installation projects as well as landscape maintenance. As we walked the property I pointed out several possible challenged areas that were problems resulting in past installations of drainage, hardscape, etc. These problems were a direct result of hiring a company that claimed to be a professional but had no prior or the proper knowledge, education, experience or proper licensing to be doing this type of work. As a result the owner of this complex will be spending monies that would not have been necessary had they hired a professional to do their work. They also will have no recourse for work performed that was less than satisfactory.
What to ask when receiving bids
A good source for information is the Oregon Landscape Contractors Board. They have information for both the consumer and the professional. Below are some questions that you can write down and ask the companies that you are getting bids with based on what types of work you are wanting to have done.
Hiring for landscape Maintenance (mowing, edging, blowing, plant trimming, bark dusting) the requirements that I would be concerned with as a homeowner would be: Do they have Liability Insurance in their company name (see example), in order to do this they would have to be registered with the State of Oregon as either a sole proprietor or a corporation. Why is it important to be registered with the State? Simply if they are not they most likely are running an all cash business and not paying any taxes. You and I cannot get away with not paying taxes and neither should the person taking your cash mowing your lawn. This is how we pay for roads, schools, etc. Another important question is do they have Liability Insurance covering injury on your property? Also if you see an employee or someone other than the owner doing the work then the State of Oregon mandates that the employer cover the employee with workers compensation, better known as SAIF coverage. This could turn into a big claim should the owner or any of their employees get hurt on your property, you could be liable. Ask the bidder if they can present to you a certificate of insurance, this is a standard procedure and a bidding requirement in the State of Oregon. After you have asked some of these questions you will find out very fast if the person that you are looking to hire on your property is legally doing business as they should.
Hiring for Landscape Construction or Installation– On top of all the above mentioned qualifications according to the State of Oregon Landscape Contractors Board in order to do landscape installation you must pass a qualifications test proving that you at least have a general knowledge of what you are proposing by contract to perform on the consumers property. The State has designated the following license categories- All Phases, Irrigation installation, Standard(all phases without irrigation or backflow) Planting only, Backflow installation. As you can see if you combine an All Phases License with all of the requirements to run a business it takes a great deal of effort to obtain and maintain the proper licensing, insurance, bonding as well as hire employees and pay the proper fees and taxes to be a legitimate business.
Opposition to licensing – there are those that are on the other side of the fence that would like to do away with any kind of government oversight. In some ways I agree with them as it takes a lot of effort and CEH Credits (continuing education classes for licensed professionals) to keep and maintain a license. Their argument is based on let the consumer decide what they are getting into, problem with that is the consumer usually does not have the time or knowledge available to them to make an educated decision of who to hire. Would you hire a physician to diagnose your physical ailment if their license was not current because they failed their continuing education requirements (CEH Credits)? Would you hire an electrician to install wiring in your new house if they had not gone to school and not been employed by a fully licensed company?
Get a contract – the number one mistake that I see consumers make is that they don’t get a contract before the work is started. The LCB mandates certain terminology be written in the contract and it is posted on their web site. Most likely if the company you are working with tries to get out of writing a contract they probably don’t have a license or are not very good at what they are proposing to install on your property.
Consumer driving the market – I would say that the consumer is already driving the market and most of the underlying problems within this industry are due to the consumer not wanting to pay the going rate for a professional or they are just ignorant of what is required. The challenge with this is yes you may find a decent contractor without licensing and all of the insurance requirements but will you have any recourse to go after them should they not perform as promised. The answer is no, if you verbally enter into an agreement with an unlicensed contractor or use a mowing maintenance company without insurance you will have an almost zero percent chance of getting your investment back and will be liable should they be injured on your property. This is the way the law works and it rewards those who protect themselves and work within it. I may not like all of the rules and regulations that I have to abide by and believe me I make myself known when I don’t agree but for the most part our system works because we try hard to look out for the consumer, the little guy who may not have the knowledge or expertise to decide what is proper protocol within our industry.
Bottom line…..Hire a licensed and insured contractor, you won’t regret it!