We had pending legislation back in 2013 in Washington State that would have stopped false advertising of plumbing services to the consumer by those that were not licensed but… we never got it passed. The reason it failed was that nobody but the cheaters had any interest in the bill.
Lack of effective plumber license enforcement in Washington State is transforming a skilled licensed trade into a commercial con game costing consumers and skilled craftsmen dearly.
The Issues Affecting Licensed Plumbers and Plumbing Contractors:
1. Unlicensed Plumbers – ineffective enforcement of plumber licensing
2. Fake Plumbing Companies – General Contractors Advertising Plumbing Services
3. The Cost of Advertising – Is incredibly high due to unfair competition from the unlicensed
4. Lack of Consumer Awareness – They don’t know that real plumbers are a licensed trade. (Drain cleaners are not plumbers)
5. Other trades wishing to perform plumbing services – i.e. Builders, General Contractors and the HVAC trades
The plumbing trade is a regulated industry in Washington State. All plumbing work must be performed by those with a certificate of experience; in other words – a license. Over the years there can been a concerted effort by those not in the plumbing trade to violate the law that restricts who may engage in the trade. The attack on the plumber and the plumbing contractor has come from multiple directions.
There is not one enemy of the licensed plumber, but many. The most significant root cause of the plumber license losing credibility and value over the years is the passivity and inattention of the licensed plumber. As a rule, once we have the license in our hand we don’t think much about it other than to complain about the renewal fees or the imposition of the continuing education requirement.
A plumber license represents years of study, certified training and official permission to engage in a regulated profession. The dictionary defines license as “a permission granted by competent authority to engage in a business or occupation or in an activity otherwise unlawful”. A license excludes others by law.
If enforcement of a law is weak or ineffective – nobody will obey the law.
Today the plumbing industry is under attack from those that wish to be engaged in the business of plumbing without a license. The sad fact is that there hasn’t been much resistance from those of us that are most affected i.e. licensed plumbers, plumbing contractors and homeowners. The plumbing industry has been invaded by anybody that wants to represent themselves as plumbers without the license because nobody has had a keen interest in the enforcement of plumber licensing.
Who is violating licensing laws? Answer: Anybody who wants to…
The following trades and businesses all advertise plumbing services today – effectively violation of existing law:
1. Rooter companies with no licensed plumbers or only a token plumber
2. General contractors advertising plumbing services
3. Plumber trainees that abandon their training and advertise as contractors
4. Handymen with or without contractor registration
5. Fraudulent website plumbing companies with fake registrations
6. HVAC companies advertising water heater sales and installations
7. Water heater companies advertising installation of water heaters
8. Hardware stores offering water heater installations
9. Building maintenance service companies providing plumbing repairs.
10. Retail Stores – Home Depot, Lowe’s
11. Marketing Companies with fake websites selling leads
12. Third Party Referral Services that promote plumbing businesses with no licenses
13. Website re-sellers
14. Amazon is now selling plumbing services on their website (2016)
It is a long list…
As a licensed plumber for over thirty five years, I have to admit that I had no idea how easily my license could become a worthless piece of paper until I saw my phone traffic drop off and customers demanding that we match quotes from unlicensed competitors. I didn’t realize that the value of a license is based solely upon what others think it to be. It’s like money. Money is just a piece of paper with ink on it. It only has value if you and I agree that it has some representative value. A couple of hundred years ago a dollar was a day’s wages. Today a dollar might buy you a day-old doughnut. That dollar bill is only worth what we are willing to trade it for. My father described Italians during the Second World War hauling lira in wheelbarrows to exchange at the bank for a few US dollars.
My fear today is that our plumber licenses will be worthless soon and we won’t even notice until it is too late. The homeowners don’t know that plumbers need licenses so the license is worth nothing to them. The rooter companies advertise plumbing with a contractor registration as cover (anybody can get a contractor registration) – the public assumes a contractor registration is a license. They don’t know the difference because the rooter companies, and others, have aggressively been substituting “plumbing technicians” instead of plumbers for years.
So what is the solution?
Well, I don’t know. It would help if the consumer knew that any plumber they hired needed to have a license in their pocket. It would also be helpful if there was a local business directory that wasn’t full of unlicensed plumbing advertisements.