After warning North Side tornado victims to avoid "unlicensed, unscrupulous contractors," Minneapolis officials failed to take their own advice and circulated a list that included 22 companies that were not licensed to perform home repairs.
The list apparently was posted on the city's website for more than a week. It wasn't removed until Friday, a day after a top official with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry alerted the city to the problem.
Charlie Durenberger, the state agency's contractor enforcement manager, told city officials he worried that some contractors might be "operating in violation of state law with the apparent endorsement of the city of Minneapolis."
City officials said they realized the list needed to be removed immediately.
"We do not want people to use unlicensed contractors," said Mike Christenson, director of the city's Department of Community Planning and Economic Development.
City officials said they're not sure who created the list, which may have originated in the city's Civil Rights Department.
Velma Korbel, the city's civil rights director, said her office created three lists of contractors featuring small, women- and minority-owned businesses. But she said each list came with several disclaimers, including a warning to verify a contractor's licensing status.
Korbel said she did not create the actual list that went on the city's website, although she acknowledged that some of those firms were also on her lists.
"We were all sort of operating in emergency mode," Korbel said.
Using unlicensed contractors to perform major repairs on homes, garages and businesses can be a big problem for property owners, according to Durenberger. The city is not allowed to issue construction permits to unlicensed operators, and licensed contractors are required to carry liability insurance. Moreover, if a licensed contractor fails to do the work or skips town, the state can reimburse consumers up to $75,000.
"Sue an unlicensed contractor and you are out of luck," Durenberger said.
The city's list of contractors was headlined: "Need Help with Home Repairs?" It also included a consumer warning: "Don't be scammed by unlicensed, unscrupulous contractors. Get multiple bids and do your homework."
Altogether, more than half of the 34 companies on the city's list fail to meet the city's own standards, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, which reviewed the list at the request of the Star Tribune.
The list was still available Monday on the website of the North West Minneapolis Business Association. The association removed the list after the Star Tribune asked about it. A spokesperson for the group said the list came from the city's Fourth Police Precinct SAFE unit.
A group called We Care has been providing an alternative list of contractors at a construction trailer parked at W. Broadway and Penn Avenue N. The trailer is operated by Thor Construction.
We Care's list included 10 unlicensed contractors and two contractors with expired licenses, according to Durenberger's office.
Thor CEO Ravi Norman said he's unsure where the list originated, but he believes it came from a city office.
Norman noted that the list was designed for work such as tarping roofs and boarding windows that does not require a licensed contractor. He said his company will create a new list this week featuring only licensed and certified firms for larger construction jobs, where licensing is required.
"If we had to do it over, somebody should have validated this list from the very beginning, but everybody was trying to respond to the disaster," Norman said.
Randy Furst • 612-673-7382