Jesse Jones

Jesse Jones Investigates: Unlicensed plumber paid $10K, works a few hours and walks off job

It happens more times than you think. Homeowners pay unlicensed contractors thousands to do jobs only to have them walk away from the job and never return.

It happened to a Lake Tapps couple who lost more than $10,000 to an unlicensed plumber and called KIRO 7′s Jesse Jones to investigate.

Jesse went door knocking to find the person the couple contracted and paid to do $13,000 worth of work. The man he went looking for was a suspected fake plumber by the name of Ryan Tubbs.

Dave Little told Jesse that Tubbs did a very small fraction of the work.

Jesse asked Little, “And how many days did he actually work?”

Little replied, “About half of a day.” Jesse: “That’s it?”

Little paid $13,000 of a $20,000 contract for his remodel.

“All of the water plumbing, as well as gas piping,” Little told Jesse.

A look at Tubbs’ Labor and Industry record shows he was not licensed, registered or bonded when he took the job. Neither was he cited for unlicensed plumbing.

Jesse talked with a Labor and Industries investigator about the job.

“Even though he went there under the guise of being a plumber, there’s nothing you can do about that?” Jesse asked Danny Zeth, an investigator with Labor and Industries.

“The only thing I could do is issue a ticket for being an unregistered contractor,” Zeth said.

“He didn’t actually physically do any plumbing,” Zeth told Jesse. “All he did was jackhammer up the concrete so the law doesn’t allow me to issue an infraction for plumbing.”

Catching unlicensed and unregistered contractors is Zeth’s beat.

Jesse asked Zeth, “Do you think it’s a lot more prevalent than what people think it is?”

Zeth replied: “Yes, it is more prevalent than people think it is.”

“And a lot of people are just quiet about it because they don’t want to say they got ripped off by someone,” Jesse said during the conversation.

“They’re embarrassed,” Zeth said.

And what worsens the situation is that many times the authorities are unwilling or too understaffed to take on these cases, calling them civil not criminal. What it means is that Tubbs has no problem telling investigators that he did it.

Zeth said, “I called him the very day that I talked to the complainant.”

“What did he say?” Jesse asked Zeth.

“He kept telling me over and over and over again that he wants to pay them back, wants to pay them back. I said, ‘OK, that’s great,’” said Zeth.

While Zeth received one story from Tubbs, Little received another.

“I said, ‘Hey, if you can’t come back out here and get this done, I’m going to have to seek legal, legal advice,’” Little said. “And at that point, he quit even contacting me. He won’t answer my phone calls, won’t return text messages, nothing.”

What consumers should do before hiring a plumber is to check the Labor and Industries website for their plumber license.

Also, plumbers should have a certification card when they come to your home.

When a consumer sees a red card, it means the plumber is a trainee and must be supervised 75% of the time.

A yellow card means they’re a specialty plumber and the specific specialty will be listed on the card.

A card that is green is at the journey level, the highest level possible.

Jesse asked Zeth, “So when someone shows up and they say that they’re plumber, you can demand to see all of it?” Zeth replied, “Yes. They need to prove that they’re a plumbing contractor. And ‘I want to see your plumber certification.’”

When Jesse tried calling Tubbs and stopped by his home several times, he saw his trailer and Harleys. He never answered.

Eventually, Little sued Tubbs in Pierce County District Court and won a $10,000 judgment as Tubbs failed to appear in court.

Little told Jesse, “But really, you got to go back and you’ve got to do your due diligence to find out if they’re licensed, bonded and insured. Really, that’s your only other recourse as far as contractors go to make sure that your projects get done on time.”

Jesse received statistics from Labor and Industries for electrical and plumbing violations issued to unlicensed and unregistered construction contractors during the past five years. The number was 10,630, which is almost six violations written daily across Washington state.