Buyer Beware: Mesa County does not license homebuilders, and state law makes it hard to hold builders accountable

BAD DECISIONS – Mesa County Commissioners approved construction of this Redlands home years ago in which setbacks were inadequate to save the house from sliding down the bluff towards the Colorado River. Mesa County does not license home builders and county building codes and inspections were inadequate to prevent this situation.

If you are planning to build or buy a newly-built home in Mesa County, be forewarned that Mesa County has no licensing requirements for homebuilders and Colorado laws make it hard to hold home builders accountable when things go wrong, and lots can go wrong.

The City of Grand Junction is the only jurisdiction in Mesa County that licenses builders

Colorado does not license home builders. Instead, the state leaves licensing up to local jurisdictions, and then only as an option, The City of Grand Junction requires homebuilders to be licensed, but Mesa County, Fruita and Palisade have no licensing requirements for homebuilders whatsoever, so people who want to build or buy a new home in unincorporated Mesa County, Fruita and Palisade lack significant consumer protections that the City of Grand Junction confers on its residents in this regard.

This “roller-coaster” road and sidewalk are the result of uneven expansion and heaving of steeply dipping bedrock layers. Photo: Colorado Geological Survey.

For most people a home is the biggest investment of their life, and it needs to be done right. If you hire an unlicensed builder who cuts corners, especially with the expansive clay soils common throughout our area, your new home can sustain severe damage if it isn’t built correctly to withstand the forces created by the swelling soils.  And that is far from the only thing than can go wrong. Think  drainage, HVAC systems, plumbing, roofing, concrete, masonry and other expensive systems that can be installed incorrectly.

Licensing  = consumer protection

Licensing of builders means someone in a position of authority has vetted them to assure they are qualified, knowledgeable, accountable, ethical and serious about preserving their image as a reputable business.

Unlicensed contractors may know what they’re doing, but Colorado requires no proof of that. Homes built by unlicensed contractors can seem  attractive to buyers because of their lower prices, but buyers who only consider price can become burdened with expense and heartache later, when things start to go wrong in their new house. When things do go wrong, there are few to no authorities you can to appeal to for help. For many people, an expensive, drawn-out lawsuit is the only way out of a difficult situation caused by a shoddy builder.

Unlicensed contractors also don’t have to carry liability or worker’s compensation insurance, so liability for accidents on the property will fall on the homeowner. If you hire an unlicensed contractor, they essentially become your employee, and it becomes your responsibility to provide them with a safe workplace and cover them for injuries they get while working on your property. An unlicensed contractor can also sue you if they are injured while working on your project. This can put you on the hook for expensive medical bills, legal fees, and the cost of the builders’ lost wages for as long as they are out of work due to the injury.

It’s also difficult to get an unlicensed builder to correct construction mistakes.

A layer of consumer protection

Home in Fruita that is the subject of a current lawsuit against Mesa County Commissioner Cody Davis in his capacity as a homebuilder, over cracking and heaving in the home from expansive clay soils under the hosue

Unlicensed builders would probably say that requiring licensure just adds bureaucracy and red tape to building a home, but don’t buy it.

Licensure confers badly-needed consumer protection.

For example, the City of Grand Junction (the only jurisdiction in Mesa County that licenses builders) requires builders provide:

  • Financial statements showing proof of their net worth;
  • Proof that they have no judgments, collections or liens against them or their property;
  • A credit report showing they have established credit;
  • A certificate of good standing with the Secretary of State for their business;
  • Proof that they’ve passed the contractor’s test on the International Building Codes of 2018 or newer;
  • Proof of liability (workers compensation) insurance if they have employees;
  • Answers to questions about whether they’ve ever defaulted on contracts, been involved in a lien lawsuit or filed for bankruptcy.

Neither Fruita, Palisade nor Mesa County have any of these requirements, even though consumers need to know this kind of information before hiring a builder. Finding this info on your own would be difficult and time-consuming, and who would want to hire a contractor who has been sued for breach of contract, negligence or had judgments awarded against them for the cost of repairing faulty work? Who would want to hire want a builder who has had to settle lawsuits over faulty work?

Finding a reputable contractor takes time.

Start by asking the city of Grand Junction for their list of licensed contractors.

Then search Colorado court records to see if your selected builders have been sued by their clients or subcontractors, and look at the lawsuit documents to see what they’ve been sued for. Was it for negligence? Breach of contract? Did they built faulty buildings or check out in the middle of construction? Check to see how the cases turned out. Did the clients win? Did the builder win? Was the case settled, and for how much? How long did the court cases drag out? What were the legal costs of bringing the lawsuit?

Try to find a licensed builder who has a clean court record, good references from numerous previous customers, good reviews on sites like Yelp, Google Reviews, BuildZoom, Better Business Bureau and other review sites.

And best of luck.

Here’s an informational video about expansive clay soils and how they affect construction in Colorado, from the Colorado Geological Survey:

  5 comments for “Buyer Beware: Mesa County does not license homebuilders, and state law makes it hard to hold builders accountable

  1. Still? When I bought my home in Mesa County, 2003, I was handed over a building inspector that literally oked my home. Shortly after my move in problems came up whereas two items, heater and hot water heater were yellow tagged and had to be replaced. I found out then that the building inspector wasn’t licensed and because C.H.F.A. wanted a quick sell they let this unlicensed building inspector pass so I could move it. There was no back up plan and it was left to me to correct. Shame on Mesa County!!!!

  2. Licensing is not the answer. A building department with a spine would take care of most of it. But when the Building Dept. answers to a county commissioner who’s a builder, see any conflict of interest there. Mesa County’s
    Building Dept. and inspection process leaves much to be desired if you’re a homeowner. If you’re a builder, your golden. If you are going to build a house in this county, hire a 3rd party Owner’s Representative who understands the building process. They can hold the contractor’s feet to the fire. It will add 5-10% to the cost of the build, but you shouldn’t have these problems when you’re done.

  3. The development/real estate industry owns and operates Colorado’s legislature and most counties and cities/towns. Until state and local politicos grow some balls, good luck building or buying anything.

  4. If you’re remodeling, even a simple remodel, the same applies. Small claims court is often your only option, so take lots of before, during and after pictures to protect yourself.

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