Florida has created a complex and layered structure scheme allegedly to protect the consumer. The State of Florida provides for two classifications of Florida contractor's licenses: "certified" and "registered." A certified contractor license is valid throughout the entire state.
A registered contractor license is limited to specific, local jurisdictions. The Certification has higher requirements but allows more flexibility. Remember, even if you have a Certified License there may still be additional licensing requirements in your local county or city; examples are discussed below. Most areas of construction require licensing in Florida except; Cabinet work; Countertops (of any kind); Flooring (of any kind); Painting (Interior and exterior); Wallpapering; Window treatments (this does not include window installation, which does require a state license).
Contractors wanting to do this kind of work still need to be registered in their local areas, but they do not need statewide certification.
In Florida, the enforcement of the Licensing requirements is done by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation ("DBPR"). The do investigate, inspect, and prosecute persons and companies for unlicensed contracting. DPBR enforces Chapter 489 which prohibits activities by unlicensed contractors including falsely holding oneself out as a licensed contractor, using another's license as one's own, and using a suspended or revoked license.
Continuing to operate 60 days after losing one's only qualifying agent and commencing work without a permit are also prohibited to contractors, whether licensed or not. Violation of any of these provisions constitutes a first-degree misdemeanor, and a second offense constitutes a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. In addition, a licensed contractor cannot permit an unlicensed contractor to use their license and operate under it; e.g. a licensed contractor cannot "rent out" their license. See Fla. Stat. §489.127(1) - (4).
There are also significant Civil penalties for operating without a license. Normally, to sue someone for breach of contract you need a contract, but Chapter 489 allows someone contracting without a license to be sued for breach of contract as Florida Statute §489.128(1) states that "as a matter of public policy . . . by an unlicensed contractor shall be unenforceable in law or in equity by the unlicensed contractor." In summary, there are very broad powers to sue someone operating without a license as a contractor in Florida.
I should stress here that for criminal and civil liability the activity of (un)licensed contracting starts when the contractor has agreed to, received payment for, or contracted to do the work. Fla. Stat. §489.128(1)(c).
If someone changes the corporate or business structure, and forgets to renew the license on time, lose an agent/employee that qualifies them for a specific license, or fail to complete on-going educational requirements they can accidently be an unlicensed contractor. Even if someone become unlicensed by accident or unknowingly you are still liable for the civil and criminal sanctions.
Even if the DPBR does not get involved, Florida Statute Section 489.127(5) allows counties the opportunity to enforce license requirements without criminal prosecution. Section 489.127(5) states that: "Each county or municipality may, at its option, designate one or more of its code enforcement officers, as defined in chapter 162, to enforce, as set out in this subsection, the provisions of subsection (1) and s. 489.132(1) against persons who engage in activity for which a county or municipal certificate of competency or license or state certification or registration is required."
If you are investigated or charged with unlicensed contracting or operating any business without a license seek an experienced attorney immediately.