Category Archives: Consumer issues

Follow-up on possible unlicensed landscaper

There were quite a few comments in response to Friday’s post about a guy going door-to-door on our street offering tree trimming and landscaping services. Nothing unusual there, except that his business card listed what appears to be a fake contractors license number.

I wanted to let you know what happened, especially in light of the cynicism expressed by some about the likelihood of regulatory action.

Just a couple of hours after the item was posted, I received an email from a supervisor in the state’s Regulated Industries Complaints Office, which enforces licensing requirements for regulated professions and vocations. It encouraged me to file a complaint about the incident.

And I did.

Here’s the message I received:

Another state employee notified me of your recent blog regarding what appears to be an unlicensed landscaper using a non-existent license number. Depending on what he is offering/how much he charges, he may be offering contracting services for which a license is required. In any case, he appears to be using a fictitious license number. In 2012, the legislature enacted several laws to address unlicensed contracting including a statute that make is a misdemeanor to “use … any word, title, or representation to induce the false belief that the person is licensed under chapter 444 to engage in contracting activity.”

Please consider making a complaint to my office. The complaint can be anonymous; however, it is usually more difficult to establish a violation without testimony regarding how the card was used, or what representations were made by the individual. This individual may have been complained about before to my office. You can also report the individual to HPD, since it appears that what he is doing qualifies as a crime.

So I scanned the business card that had been given to me, which included the obviously incorrect and apparently false license number, and submitted it.

I don’t know about you, but I’m impressed by the proactive stance shown by RICO in this instance.

How to handle a door-to-door solicitation

So we were just getting ready for lunch when a man came up to our front door.

He was handing out business cards and soliciting work tree trimming, landscaping, or doing yard maintenance.

“Hey, Boss, we’ll give you a good price,” he said.

In Kaaawa, we would get visits like this quite often. Over the years, I hired several people who first made unsolicited visits like this. Some turned out to be good workers, reliable, and honest. And the fact that he was out looking for work on Thanksgiving seemed to be to his credit.

I took his card, thanked him, and he left.

His business card lists two phone numbers, with the statement, “Bonded & Insured,” along with a license number.

I was going to just drop it in a drawer for possible future reference, but then I noticed the license number. It just didn’t look right.

So I quickly checked online with the Professional and Vocational Licensing database, and sure enough, the license number isn’t in a format used in Hawaii. When I searched, there’s no record of a license issued in the company name or the individual’s name. So apparently the licensed part is bogus, and likely the “bonded and insured” claim as well.

A bit of additional searching online found that a person with the same name, and a similar sounding company name, was fined twice (for a total of $1,600) by Oregon’s Construction Contractors Board several years ago.

So here’s a question: Should I just throw his card away and forget it? Does someone in my position have a responsibility to help protect others who might not know how easy it is to check out this kind of offer? Should I feel obliged to become an enforcement agent and forward his card to state regulators?

Any thoughts?

How does Hawaii rank on disclosure of consumer complaints?

How does Hawaii rate when it comes to disclosing consumer complaints?

That was the question behind a 50-state investigation by (

The organization filed public record requests in each state for records of consumer complaints against companies they are researching, using each state’s public records law.

We’re accustomed to Hawaii getting low scores on tests like this, but be prepared to be surprised.

The group rated Hawaii as one of three “Gold Star states,” the three most open states in the country, along with New Hampshire and Oregon. Each of the top ranked states maintains a searchable online database of consumer complaints.

In Hawaii, you can search separate databases of complaints filed with the Office of Consumer Protection or the Regulated Industries Complaints Office.

According to

Consumers who take the time to file a complaint with state officials can provide valuable information on how a business operates in practice. While consumers may turn to online reviews and ratings sites to evaluate a business, those sources can be murky. Fake reviews are a troublesome issue and some businesses are trying to tamp down negative reviews with terms and conditions that impose gag orders and fines. Thus, complaints filed with state officials become an important resource for consumers. States that lock complaints behind closed doors are limiting access to useful information about experiences fellow consumers have had with a company.

Equally important is the ability to keep government officials accountable. States that keep consumer records from the public are severely limiting the public’s ability to monitor whether government officials are doing enough to protect them from unscrupulous enterprises by taking action against a company.

The group compiled a list of how and where to go for information, or to file a consumer complaint, in each state. Click here to see the Hawaii listing.

Understaffing causing more city problems

Two different news stories point to more problems in Honolulu due to understaffing at the city. The understaffing seems to be undercutting the ability of the city to deliver essential services.

Trash pickup was the focus of Gordon Pang’s story on Saturday in the Star-Advertiser (“City crews are catching up on garbage collection backlog“).

Pang reported that regular trash pickups were missed throughout many parts of urban Honolulu, from Hawaii Kai to Aliamanu.

Green waste wasn’t picked up on its scheduled day here in our part of Kahala this week, and our regular Saturday pickup of the standard gray bins didn’t happen. Bulky items and green waste have had problems keeping on schedule recently.

Apparently this has been happening across Honolulu.

Pang reported:

The delays in trash pickup were touched off by a shortage of refuse operators in the Solid Waste Division’s Honolulu yard, Owens said. Typically it takes 35 operators to run the Honolulu routes, but there currently are 25, he said.

As a result, an unknown number of collections were delayed by up to two days, he said.

And a similar issue has disrupted bulky-item pickup as well.

Again, Pang reported:

…bulky-item crews recently fell seven to 10 days behind schedule, Owens said.

An employee shortage is partly to blame, he said. There are no workers assigned specifically to bulky-waste pickup, but a crew is selected from the pool of manually operated truck operations that service about 20,000 households islandwide.

That pool is also contending with a shortage.

And last night KHON reported the city has been unable to keep grass mowed along public streets and in some public areas, an issue again blamed on staff shortages.

“The Dept. of Facility Maintenance is challenged with staffing right now,” said director Ross Sasamura. “We have roughly one third of our positions vacant. We don’t see any immediate resolution to that issue….

The city’s response? Artificial turf (“City says synthetic turf is solution to wild-growing grass problem“). It’s a solution that ignores the underlying problem of a lack of staff.

It’s time for a candid assessment by city officials. What will it take to actually get the city’s necessary jobs done?

Another Honolulu Airport tidbit

The November issue of Pat Tummons’ Environment Hawaii newsletter includes a brief note about the international gardens at Honolulu International Airport, which “have long been sanctuary for weary travelers….”

Gardens Gone? The item describe construction preparations underway both at the concourse and garden levels, with plywood fences now blocking the view of the gardens.

Elsewhere in the garden area, benches suffered from neglect; stats between concrete standards appear to have been painted most recently in the last century, while the benches themselves wobble on a crumbling foundation. The once-manicured gardens are unkempt and overgrown. Sidewalks are unswept and untidy.

Before the recent neglect, the airport garden was among “Seven Picture-Perfect Airport Gardens” recommended by

Environment Hawaii notes that email requests for comment from DOT Airports officials went unacknowledged.

Will the gardens be making way for new commercial development in the airport? I guess we have to wait and see what unfolds.