The city of Toledo wants to be able to jail people who pass themselves off as licensed contractors — like it did before a mistake in 2015 reduced the penalty to only a fine.
Toledo City Council could vote today to restore the maximum penalty of six months in jail for violations such as performing work without a license.
John Madigan, the city’s senior attorney, said the law was inadvertently changed when council approved a series of ordinances to move city inspection employees under the city’s economic development department.
The tougher penalty was omitted from the Toledo Municipal Code revisions that council was asked to approve at that time, Mr. Madigan said.
“This particular section [of law] had always been a misdemeanor of the first degree, which is a penalty that carried up to six months in jail, possibly,” he said. “It was amended down to a fine-only offense … and anyone convicted of doing work without a license could be given up to a $500 fine.”
The switch went unnoticed until Joseph Howe, chief prosecutor in the housing court division of Toledo Municipal Court, asked for the tougher penalty.
“We believe this was changed in error and it was stumbled upon when we were in the middle of a case,” Mr. Howe said.
“These people are advertising themselves as licensed contractors and they are taking advantage of our citizens,” he said. “One of the cases that finally made me come to the law department … was a gentleman was installing heating systems … for four individuals where the work was done improperly.”
One of those residential jobs was done so poorly that the occupants could have been killed, Mr. Howe said.
“That contractor ran the vent for the furnace back into the crawl space for the house,” he said. “Quite frankly, we are lucky the person didn’t die.”
Mr. Howe said people who are convicted under current law can pay a fine and go back to performing shoddy work.
Councilmen were surprised when told last week during an agenda review meeting about the reduction of penalties.
“One cracked heat exchanger can kill a family,” Councilman Matt Cherry noted.
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