KSL Investigates: State Regulator Website ‘Like Early 2000s’ For Access To Information, Lacks Full Discipline Records
EDITOR’S NOTE: After dozens of complaints from viewers about construction defects in Utah, the KSL Investigators launched an in-depth look at the construction industry. This is part of a series on A Building Problem in our state.
LAYTON, Utah — When it comes to remodeling or even building a home, consumers have to do their homework to find a qualified contractor.
One tool touted as a place to check out potential contractors is the Division of Occupational & Professional Licensing or DOPL. The division’s search engine offers consumers the ability to lookup licenses and see if their professional has been disciplined.
But, as the KSL Investigators discovered, it’s not easy to find the information you need.
Put to the Test
Victor and Hannah Sine are expecting their first child and hope to have a home birth. But they said their master bathroom is much too small and want to remodel.
“Everything is just so narrow and tight,” Hannah said.
They know how important it is to do their homework to find a professional for the job. They prioritized online reviews, complaints with the Better Business Bureau and testimonials from former customers.
“[I look for] word of mouth referrals saying they did a great job, we’ve used them for years, and I know that we’ve had no issues with them,” Victor said.
But something Victor had never seen was DOPL’s website. So, armed with a few word-of-mouth referrals, the KSL Investigators had the Sines try and research the contractors through DOPL’s License Lookup.
“Nothing’s popping up for them, so I don’t really know how to use my resources to find a contractor. At least through DOPL,” Victor said.
So we had him put in the name of a contractor known to be licensed. But the database still did not turn up any information. As we later found out, that’s because the contractor’s name was registered with a space between two letters in the name.
“It’s like, (the) early 2000s, like 90s, when you had to type in exactly what you’re looking for,” Victor said.
Even Hannah, who is a licensed midwife and familiar with the DOPL website, struggled.
“We still couldn’t find a contractor through the website,” she said.
Discipline Search Comes Up Short
DOPL is also in charge of disciplining contractors when they break state rules. This ranges from citations to referral of criminal charges to the Utah Attorney General. But as the KSL Investigators found, consumers don’t have access to a lot of that information.
Complaints made against license holders are not considered public information under Utah law. Therefore, the public cannot see how many times other customers have filed complaints about a company.
Any citations issued against a license holder are not found on their page. Instead, consumers must sort through PDF files of Monthly Disciplinary Newsletters to see if their professional was cited. The information is not easily searchable.
Searching for the name of your contractor? If they are the qualifier for a company, their name won’t show up in the search results. Instead, you have to search for the company name for their license to appear.
Happen to hire a contractor that’s not licensed? Even if DOPL has cited them for contracting without a license, their name won’t appear in the DOPL database, because they aren’t a license holder.
Looking for a full disciplinary history for a contractor? All administrative actions taken against a company more than 10 years ago and certain actions taken five years ago are not accessible online. Consumers can get access to that information via a public records request.
There are also some huge discrepancies in what DOPL is reporting as discipline versus what shows up in its released records. According to DOPL, it disciplined 676 contractors in 2019, as of the beginning of October. But when the KSL Investigators scoured the Monthly Disciplinary Newsletters, we could only account for 189 contractors. The remaining 487, or 72%, did not appear.
The KSL Investigators took all of this to DOPL for comment. The department did not want to discuss this in an on-camera interview. By email, their spokesperson Jennifer Bolton said they have “requested that the vendor who manages the database… make changes” so citations are searchable and will show up on the license holder’s record.
But what about what Victor described as “the 90s search engine?” DOPL didn’t indicate any updates were forthcoming, only that consumers would need to know how the company spells its name on their license registration.
DOPL officials said consumers can contact them anytime for information about a licensed professional, or they can file a public records request for information through their website.