Using an unlicensed HVAC contractor can void your warranty

July 18, 2016 14:50 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I bought a new HVAC system last year, which I had a handyman install.  I recently had a problem with it, which should have been covered under my three-year warranty. When I contacted the manufacturer, they told me the warranty was void.  Now I am facing an $800 repair. What can I do?

Consumer Ed says:  

For the answer to this question, we consulted the Georgia Board of Conditioned Air Contractors and the Conditioned Air Association of Georgia.

It is a little known secret that if you have your HVAC equipment installed or serviced by an unlicensed contractor, the warranty on your equipment might be void. Unfortunately, most consumers, even those who have done thorough research before purchasing an HVAC system, are not aware of this fact because it is rarely disclosed on the internet or by unlicensed contractors.  In fact, there is usually no notice about this on the manufacturer’s website, the packaging, or on the equipment itself. As a result, most consumers do not learn of this restriction until they have to make a claim for repairs or until they read the fine print on the warranty, which is usually not provided until the HVAC unit has been purchased and installed.  

Although an HVAC contractor may have a business license issued by a city or county, he or she is not necessarily an HVAC state licensed contractor.   Under Georgia law, a person engaged in HVAC contracting is required to have a valid license from the Secretary of State’s Construction Industry Licensing Board’s Division of Conditioned Air Contractors. Every person holding such a license is required to display it in a conspicuous manner in his place of business.  In addition, all commercial vehicles used by an HVAC licensee in the daily operation of business are required to prominently display the license number, and all qualified companies are required to prominently display this license number on any advertising found in phonebooks, newspapers, as well as all invoices and proposal forms.  

To verify the validity and current status of a contractor’s license, or to determine if any disciplinary action has been taken against the licensee by the Division, consumers should go to the Professional Licensing section of the Secretary of State’s website ( and search under the Profession “Conditioned Air.”  

It is natural to want your home repairs done as economically as possible, but given the high cost of repairing today’s sophisticated, computerized HVAC systems, the money saved by hiring an unlicensed contractor can end up costing you more in the long run if your system needs a repair.

There are additional benefits to working with a licensed HVAC contractor. First, HVAC installations, as well as some repairs, are supposed to be permitted by a county building inspector.  At the completion of the job, the inspector will be able to certify that the installation is done properly and safely. Since only licensed HVAC contractors can obtain a permit, any work done by an unlicensed HVAC contractor is not “double-checked” by a building inspector.

Second, many licensed contractors will not ask for a significant amount of money until the work is finished and you are satisfied. That way, you can likely wait until the building inspector verifies that the work was done properly before you pay a lot of money to the contractor.  

Finally, while it is not illegal for an HVAC supplier to sell equipment to unlicensed contractors, most reputable suppliers have a policy of only selling this equipment to licensed contractors. As a result, many unlicensed HVAC contractors must obtain equipment through unauthorized sources, which may be selling stolen equipment or reconditioned units often represented as being new.  HVAC equipment obtained by these means rarely comes with a manufacturer’s warranty.  

Consumers who believe they have been harmed by a licensed contractor can submit a complaint to the Secretary of State’s Licensing Board by visiting or calling (478) 207-2440. In addition, consumers can contact The Conditioned Air Association of Georgia at (678) 646-2224, which will work with the contractor, the property owner and the licensing board to try to resolve the problem.

If harm is caused by an unlicensed contractor, a consumer can file a lawsuit against the contractor.  The consumer may also contact the Secretary of State’s Construction Industry Licensing Board, who may order the contractor to stop engaging in unlicensed contracting and/or fine the contractor for engaging in any subsequent acts of unlicensed contracting. 

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Cement contractor took the money but won't do the job

February 23, 2016 15:27 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

Two months ago I paid a cement contractor to do a job for me.  The job has not been done and he does not take my calls anymore.  I was given excuses for why he couldn't start, until I requested a refund. What recourse do I have?

Consumer Ed says:  

The first thing you need to do is look at the agreement that you entered into with your contractor; its terms should spell out specified start and completion dates, cancellations, refunds, and any other provisions addressing the rights and obligations of the parties. However, even if you had only a verbal agreement, you likely still have recourse against the contractor.  

If the contractor has or is required to have a state license under Georgia law, you may be able to prompt his cooperation by reporting him to the State Licensing Board for Residential and General Contractors, a part of the Georgia Secretary of State.  While not all construction occupations require a state contractor’s license, a great number of activities that require building permits do.  Notably, though, the state allows licensure exemptions for a wide range of specialty contractors, like roofers, painters, brick masons, and even those who focus on concrete work.  A complete list of specialty contractor services may be found with the Secretary of State at or the Homebuilders Association of Georgia at  

Further, and perhaps more importantly, most local county or city jurisdictions require all contractors – whether state licensed or not – to have a local license, such as a business license required for tax purposes. So, some specialty contractors may be required to hold a local license. 

Also, local ordinances may require a contractor to obtain a building permit in the process of performing such work. You can check with your county or city government to make sure your contractor has the proper local licensing and you can report him to the proper authority if he is operating without the required state or local license.

If you cannot resolve the problem directly with the contractor, there are several options available to you.   If you paid with a credit card, you may be able to dispute the charge with your credit card provider.  You can also contact the Better Business Bureau to see if they will help mediate a solution between you and the contractor.  

Additionally, you may want to consult a private attorney to determine the extent of legal options available to you.  To find a lawyer in your area, contact your local bar association.  A list of the bar associations in Georgia can be found on the State Bar of Georgia’s website:  

Finally, you can submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission at, or to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at or by calling 404-651-8600.

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How long does a lien stay on a property in Georgia?

February 10, 2016 15:25 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

How long does a lien stay on a property in Georgia?

Consumer Ed says:  

There are several types of liens that can be attached to a person’s property.  Each has a different expiration date, and if successfully enforced, could result in the sale of your property to obtain the amount of the lien from the proceeds (with any remaining funds going to the property holder).  While this list is not exhaustive, the most common types of liens are: 

Tax Liens

A state tax lien occurs when taxes are due to the state, or to counties of the state, or other special tax districts of the state.  State tax liens don’t expire, and the only way to get rid of them is to pay the amount owed—otherwise, when you sell your home, the state will collect the amount owed from the proceeds of the sale.

A federal tax lien is one that the federal government can use when you fail to pay a tax debt.  A federal tax lien exists after the IRS puts your balance due on the books (assesses your liability), then sends you a bill that explains how much you owe (Notice and Demand for Payment) after you fail to fully pay the debt in time.  The lien continues until it is paid, or it expires.  Generally, the IRS has ten years to collect after it is assessed.  The IRS can extend the ten years under two different circumstances.  First, the statute of limitations can be extended if you enter into an installment agreement; this extends the expiration date to 89 days after the installment agreement expires.  The second is a release of levy with an agreement to extend the statute of limitations to a specific date, provided the extension date hasn’t passed.  A release of levy may be given if the lien is creating an immediate economic hardship.  This doesn’t mean you are excused from paying what is owed, only that you will be given some leeway to make the payments.  The IRS will generally work with you to establish a payment plan or other steps to help you pay off the balance.

Judgment Lien

A judgment  lien is created when a judgment is obtained in superior, magistrate, or other state courts.  This lien can become unenforceable after seven years, if the lien holder doesn’t seek to enforce the lien by providing public written notice of its efforts, and by including the names of the parties to the enforcement action, the nature of the action, and having it recorded in the court.  The lien holder is able to re-record the judgment every seven years to keep it enforceable; however, if the lien holder fails to re-record the lien within the seven year period, he or she has only three years after that expiration date to re-record it.  If the lien holder fails to re-record during the three years, he or she is barred from enforcing the judgment.

Laborer’s Lien

A laborer’s lien is a lien filed by a person who provides services under a contract for manual labor or physical work.  The lien can only be for the work performed, and cannot include any materials provided (but these would fall under a materialman’s lien, described below). The lienholder must go to court to obtain a judgment against you within twelve months, or the lien becomes unenforceable.

Mechanic’s or materialman’s lien

A mechanic’s or materialman’s lien is a type of lien that contractors, subcontractors, and others who have contributed services and/or materials to improve a new or existing home can file against a homeowner’s property if they do not get paid, even if the homeowner paid the general contractor.  Liens like this don’t go on your credit report, and expire within 12 months unless the subcontractor or contractor actually files a lawsuit to collect the money.  

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