"Licensed, bonded and insured." Most service companies make this claim in some form or fashion. The general public usually assumes anyone making this claim is telling the truth, and that everyone has similar levels of licensing and insurance. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Licensing: The State of Florida requires both residential and commercial builders and contractors to be licensed. There are separate licensing requirements for residential, mechanical (plumbing , electrical, HVAC) and general contractors, but all are licensed through the Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board (CILB), which also requires that licenses be kept current. You can confirm that a license is legitimate and current by visiting www.myfloridalicense.com. (Outside of Florida click this link to find out if a contractor is licensed ). Select "Verify a License" and then search by license number or contractor name. The CILB also administers the Florida Homeowners' Construction Recovery Fund. Compensation may be available from this fund if you lose money on a project performed under contract, where the loss results from specified violations of Florida law by a licensed contractor. If you choose an unlicensed contractor at your home or business you have no legal rights under the relevant statute.

An unscrupulous company may claim to be "licensed" but have only a business license or occupancy license for the facility at hand. Yes, it's a license. No, it offers no protection. If you don't confirm the type of license they have-that it is legitimate and current-you may not have the security of working with a licensed contractor.

Bonding: Fidelity bonds protect the homeowner from dishonest acts by a contractor's employee. This would include theft of property. Ask for proof of such bonds.

Insurance: While all insurance is purchased with the hope that it will never be used, almost everyone carries multiple forms of insurance in order to mitigate risk. Similarly, you want insured vendors working at your home or business. You might never need it, but the risks are significant and you want the vendors to have insurance to minimize these risks. There are multiple forms of insurance, each serving a specific role and offering a particular form of protection.

Workers' Compensation Insurance is vital in order to protect homeowners from liability for injuries incurred while workers are present in their homes or business. If you allow a worker without Worker's Compensation Insurance into your home and he or she is subsequently injured, you face the very real risk of being liable for that worker's lost wages due to injury. The legal precedent exists and the ambulance chasers are out there. Don't take the risk.

Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance covers the homeowner for bodily injury, property damage or personal injury in the event of damage to, or loss of, a home or structure due to a contractor's negligence. Even with a simple project, disaster can strike. A nail driven into a wall can rupture a pipe and cause significant water damage and mold problems. Minor electrical work, if done poorly, can spark a fire. A ladder leaning against the house can fall in the wind-across your car or grill or through a window. Don't just assume you are protected. Verify that any company allowed access to your home is adequately insured.

While the license is issued by the state, the bond and insurance are backed by an insurance carrier(s). Contact information, for verification purposes, is listed on the insurance certificate as is the expiration date of the policy.

Ask to see licenses, bonds and certificates of insurance if you have any doubts. Reputable companies like Mr. Handyman are happy to provide proof of their adherence to the laws and regulations designed to protect employees and homeowners until the completion of a project.