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Defending Yourself in Arizona Registrar of Contractors Proceedings
Complaints with the Registrar of Contractors should be taken seriously. However, they are not cause for panic. If properly evaluated and addressed, such matters can often be successfully resolved.
As a licensed contractor, you are subject to the jurisdiction of the Arizona Registrar of Contractors. If a customer or another contractor is displeased with your work, they may file a Compliant against you with the Registrar of Contractors. Many contractors do not take the compliant process seriously, assuming that the matter will work itself out. Unfortunately, the rulings in such proceedings can have serious consequences for you as a licensed contractor, including being ordered to perform costly work that you might not otherwise be responsible for performing, correcting work that may not need correction, payment of significant restitution or financial penalties, or the suspension or revocation of your contracting license. Therefore, such proceedings must be fully understood, addressed in a serious manner and properly defended. These are not the type of proceedings where you want to just “wing it.”
All licensed contractors are required to perform their work in a workmanlike manner and in accordance with the minimum standards imposed by the Registrar of Contractors. If a Complaint is filed against you, the Registrar or Contractors will notify you and give you the opportunity to amicably resolve the matter with the Complainant, if possible. As a contractor, you are not obligated to re‑execute work which meets the minimum workmanship standards or to address matters which are not defective.
If a resolution with the Complainant is not timely reached, the Registrar of Contractors will have an inspector examine the matter. If the inspector believes your work is deficient, a Corrective Work Order may be issued, ordering you to remedy the situation. Keep in mind that the opinion of the inspector is not conclusive on the issue and the inspector is just one potential witness if the matter should proceed to a hearing. In fact, the inspectors are not experts in many areas of construction and an Administrative Law Judge may give greater weight to the opinions of a true expert in a particular area of construction. Thus, you should not feel that you must give in on an issue just because the inspector sides with the Complainant on a particular item. Also, even if the inspector determines that your work is in full compliance with the applicable standards and the inspector does not issue a corrective work order, the Complainant may still request an administrative hearing, which, in most circumstances, must be granted.
If a matter is not resolved among you and the Complainant, an administrative hearing may be held before an Administrative Law Judge. The judge will determine the merits of the issues and whether any action should be ordered to be taken against you, the contractor. The judge will conduct a hearing much like that of a trial in court. Evidence will be presented, witness will be called to testify, and the Registrar’s inspector will likely be called as a witness as well. Even though it is the Complainant who bears the burden of proof on all issues, you, as a contractor, need to be well prepared to refute the allegations with controverting witnesses and evidence. If you do not do so, or do not present an effective defense, you increase the chances of losing the case and suffering potentially serious consequences.
After a hearing is completed, the Administrative Law Judge will make a recommended Decision to the Registrar of Contractors. The Registrar of Contractors will then review the recommendation and issue an Order. The Registrar of Contractors has the authority to accept the judge’s recommendation, reject it or accept it with modifications. In my experience, in the great majority of cases the Registrar of Contractors accepts the Recommended Decision of the Administrative Law Judge.
Errors and irregularities in the inspection, administrative and hearing process can and do occur. As a consequence, you may have the right, under certain circumstances, to request a rehearing or to appeal the decision. However, if you fail to present your defense in a proper manner, you may jeopardize your right to an appeal even if there were serious errors committed during the course of the proceeding. You must therefore properly present your defense and take measures to protect yourself in the proceedings.
Often contractors are lulled into believing that the hearing process should be taken lightly, because the process appears more relaxed and less formal than a court proceeding. However, it is important to keep in mind that the consequences can be equally serious, just as if the matter were proceeding to court, particularly due to the fact that the Registrar of Contractors has the right to take action against your contracting license and your livelihood. Therefore, Complaints must be taken seriously.
As a licensed contractor, you have the absolute right to have an attorney represent you and protect your interests in these proceedings. Just as an attorney would be out of his element attempting to perform tile work, most contractors are out of their element attempting to adequately defend themselves in Registrar of Contractors proceedings. I therefore recommend that, at a minimum, you meet with an experienced construction law attorney if a Complaint is filed against your license. This will allow you to obtain an objective evaluation, get good advice, formulate a strategy and obtain actual representation in the proceeding if deemed necessary. Keep in mind that not every case may merit the need for an attorney to represent you. In a number of matters over the years, I have assisted contractors in developing a game plan and strategy, outlining the evidence they need to present, briefing them on the procedures and the law, and then having the contractor proceed with the matter on their own.
In your profession, you cannot adequately perform a project if you fail to first evaluate the project, take measurements, order the materials, assemble the proper tools, and prepare a game plan. The same approach applies to adequately defending yourself in an administrative proceeding. If you do not develop a plan for adequately defending yourself, the results may be less than you desire, and in some cases, the consequences may be devastating.
You are under no obligation to accede to the demands of unreasonable Complainant, to give in when your work has been properly performed or to feel helpless if an inspector erroneously takes a position contrary to your professional opinion. Therefore, you should not feel intimidated about vigorously defending yourself, your license and your livelihood. Complaints with the Registrar of Contractors should be taken seriously. However, they are not cause for panic. If properly evaluated and addressed, such matters can often be successfully resolved.