State lawmaker wants all contractors licensed after FOX 46 investigations

State Rep. John Autry watched out investigations and is now taking action.

"I started looking into what we might be able to do," said Autry, "and the legislation to help alleviate some of this nefarious activity." 

He's talking about Randy Briel, a man Attorney General Josh Stein labeled a "crooked contractor" after a series of FOX 46 investigations going back to 2014. The unlicensed contractor is accused of repeatedly taking tens thousands of dollars from customers and never doing the work. 

"When I saw the story," said Autry, "I wasn't that surprised."

What did surprise Autry is how someone like Briel could keep getting arrested and keep soliciting work. In North Carolina, contractors don't need to be licensed to build anything under $30,000. Autry wants to change that.

"For us to alleviate this issue of people getting ripped off by unlicensed contractors," said Autry. "We're going to have to require contractors to be licensed."

That license could be revoked if, say, a contractor commits fraud. It could be reinstated, Autry said, when a victim is paid back.

Critics worry this could place a burden on small businesses and otherwise qualified builders. The Mecklenburg Democrat is working with District Attorney Spencer Merriweather and wants to work with Republicans on legislation he says would help homeowners. 

"Rep. Autry has indeed spoken with me and others about how enhanced laws might better protect citizens from contractors who don't follow through on work for which they have been paid," said Merriweather. "He is one of a number of publics servants looking at a variety of options that can better protect homeowners."

Officials with the North Carolina Home Builders Association, an organization that represents 14,000 contractors and sub-contractors, said they are in support of measures that would protect the public. The organization,  does not yet have a position on whether all contractors should be licensed. 

"This is the sort of issue where there should be bipartisan support," said Autry.

Briel, and his accomplice Glenn Dunnam, are currently being sued by AG Stein. Their accounts are frozen and they are not allowed to do work pending the outcome of the case. Briel's temporary restraining order was extended Tuesday until Sept. 17, when he is due back in court.