Unlicensed electricians face stiffer fines in Oregon

Unlicensed electricians face stiffer fines in Oregon

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — When Brian Myers, owner of Traditional Electric LLC, decided to perform electrical work without a license, the worst punishment he thought he could receive was a fine.

Then the Oregon Building Codes Division slapped him with a court injunction, which could mean bigger fines and even jail time if he were to continue to perform electrical work.

BCD enforcement officer Brent Griffiths said Myers and another chronic offender recently were hit with court injunctions because they repeatedly violated Oregon law by performing unlicensed electrical work.

Most people pay $260 for a license after being fined for working without one, Griffiths said; however, others continue to work illegally. The only remedy, he added, is an injunction.

"The law only allows (the BCD) to assess penalties and often, people just don't pay attention to those," Griffiths said. "When we see persons with those patterns, we get an injunction, which forces them to look at probation and possibly jail time for continuing to do unlicensed work."

Myers was first fined in 2007 when he worked for a contractor in Salem. He was fined twice this year for working without a license. In September, the BCD permanently revoked his ability to get a license and issued Traditional Electric LLC a $39,000 fine. The last activity Myers performed, he said, was a favor for a friend. He has since shuttered his business and is selling all of his equipment.

"I had no clue I could be charged with a crime," Myers said. "If I would have known that, I would have never touched anything. It was a stupid decision."

Myers had fewer violations than other repeat offenders, but Griffiths said the work was particularly unsafe. In 2008, Myers replaced an electrical meter main along Northwest Cornell Road in Portland and neglected to restore the locked protective devices, exposing the public to potential injury or death by electric shock. Griffith said he pursued an injunction because Myers' installations were reckless.

A permanent injunction also was given to Walter E. Steinbrook of Salem this year. He had violations dating back to 1999. Steinbrook's electrical licenses were revoked in 2007, but he violated a "cease and desist" order.

Also, the BCD recently nabbed POP Signs' Harry Kim, whose violations date back to 2000. After fining Kim $18,000 in August, the state is pursuing an injunction against the former contractor.

Repeat violators are difficult to catch, according to John Killin, executive director of the Independent Electrical Contractors of Oregon. Many who choose to work without a license come from out of state, move around a lot and are generally hard to pin down, Killin said.

"These guys are more transient than the average contractor," Killin said. "Once BCD has an address, a name and a driver's license number, they can be watching for it. If they get caught again without a license, those are big fines. Personally, I'd rather pay the $260 for a license."

So why do people continue to work under the radar after multiple fines and threats of legal action? Griffith thinks they often are desperate or believe they won't be caught. Myers said he won't touch a piece of electric equipment again. He is interviewing for jobs, and hopes that employers will overlook the blemish on his record.

"I'm done with this mess," Myers said. "Just don't work without a license. It's not worth it."


Information from: Daily Journal of Commerce, http://djcoregon.com


Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.