Stinking the mailbox 

By now you've probably seen Local 6's "exclusive" investigation into Orkin Pest Control's tendency not to pull permits for houses the company repairs. Perhaps you also remember reading something strikingly similar two months ago in this paper [The Orkin scam, Sept. 25]. This is just the beginning.

Collier Black and Elizabeth Allen, the two homeowners at the heart of the story, have received inquiries from both "60 Minutes" and "CBS Evening News." The alternative Folio Weekly in Jacksonville reprinted our story, and the Atlanta Creative Loafing referenced it in a column on Orkin's misdeeds. The season isn't a happy one for the nation's second-largest pest control company.

Orkin is in full damage-control mode. Last month, company vice president Chris Gorecki visited building officials in Duval and St. Johns counties, offering an olive branch: Orkin would promise to mail all of its clients letters asking them if they were happy. If the homeowners replied negatively, Orkin would fix their homes and pull permits this time around to do the work. (Black, for one, was not impressed by the effort. "It's 'How can we slough this off?'" he says.)

Here's the problem for building inspectors: Orkin is a private company, and unless so ordered by a court, is under no obligation to turn over its client list to the counties. Therefore, county inspectors have no way of knowing if Orkin even sends the letters it has promised to send, or if the company responds to customers who say they aren't happy. And they should wonder if Orkin will do right by their customers; this is a company that arbitrators ruled is knee-deep in "deceptive and unfair trade practices."

"I'm not quite sure what we have to do," says Stan DeAngelis, St. Johns County building official. "We're waiting for [county attorneys] to decide."

While DeAngelis agrees that Orkin's practices were "illegal," he points out that the company isn't licensed as a contractor in Florida, and therefore can't be held accountable for not pulling permits. The subcontractors Orkin employed -- and whom Orkin blamed for the lack of permit-pulling -- were operating under Orkin's direction, and thus can't be fingered either. In many cases, DeAngelis says, the liability would fall on the property owner for hiring an unlicensed contractor.

He has, however, encouraged the state's Department of Professional Regulation to investigate Orkin for acting as an unlicensed contractor. "The Department of Professional Regulation needs to do something to them," he says.

Collier Black wants the counties to force Orkin to turn over its customer lists, either via a lawsuit or through some media coercion -- i.e., demanding the information on television, where it would look very bad for Orkin to refuse -- and then he hopes the counties will investigate whether the proper permits were pulled.

"They've got to do what the law requires all over the state of Florida," Black says. "They [building officials] are trying to figure out how the hell to get around [their responsibilities]. I want Orkin to defy them. They've got to make some demands for Orkin to defy them."

Building officials should be looking for a way to enforce the law, and the law says Orkin has to pull permits. If Orkin didn't pull permits, they are responsible for making sure repairs are done right. Many Floridians sell their homes every seven years or so, and allowing Orkin this get-out-of-jail-free card only passes the problems on to the next owners.

Bob Olin, the director of Orange County's building department, says that Orkin hasn't paid him a visit, at least not yet. And he agrees with DeAngelis that, to some degree, his hands are tied (though he does urge the Department of Professional Regulation to get involved and make this a statewide investigation). If he had specific complaints in Orange County, his department could go after the licensed contractors who did work without permits, and Orange County's consumer fraud unit could go after Orkin for acting as an unlicensed contractor.

So if Orkin has ever done any repair work on your house, call the Orange County building department at (407) 836-5550 and find out if they pulled permits for the work. If not, tell the building department you want to pursue a complaint.


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