The State Legislature thought they were helping small contractors when they decided they no longer needed a license to operate, but counties in South Florida are saying if you don’t have a license, you can’t pull a permit. That’s why one fencing contractor called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Island Fencing is certainty not new to the business.

Nestor Lopez: “No, sir. Fifty years in business. My father started this company in 1969, came from Cuba.”

Today, Nestor, his brother and his sister run the company their dad Placido created, turning wire into chain link fences, welding fences, installing fences.

Nestor Lopez: “We do everything. We do aluminum, we do wood, chain link, concrete walls. You name it, we do it. Oh, we love it, we love it.”

But right now, the family business has them feeling fenced in.

Nestor Lopez: “Oh, I thought it was great, great law. No, it was terrible.”

In 2021, the Florida Legislature passed a law saying specialty contractors, people like Nestor who install fences, will no longer need a city or county license to do their work.

Nestor Lopez: “I understand that they want to make it easier, but they made it difficult.”

That’s because when Nestor contacted Dade and Broward counties, he says he was told he would need to get his fencing license from the state to pull a permit in the county, but the state doesn’t offer specialty licenses.

Nestor Lopez: “And when I contacted the state, they basically, just all I heard was crickets. They had no response for me.”

That means around 54 different kind of contractors who do painting, drywall, concrete, on and on, will be in deep trouble when the law goes into effect in 2023.

Patrick Fraser: “So, in effect, the state’s going to put a lot of people out of business?”

Nestor Lopez: “Absolutely, and I’m not talking about Dade and Broward, I’m talking about statewide. Whoever has a specialty license is going to be affected.”

The state passed a law that counties cannot require a license for fencing contractors like Nestor, but Nestor can’t get a permit to install a fence in South Florida without that license.

Nestor Lopez: “And again, here I am laughing, but it’s not funny.”

Patrick Fraser: “What do you think your dad would say if he was here?”

Nestor Lopez: “Oh, he’s rolling in his grave. He’s rolling in his grave.”

Well, Howard, legally what can be done?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “When a law is not clearly legally, there are two ways to fix it: Either the legislature rewrites it before it goes into effect, or some of the people hurt by this get together and sue the state and let a judge straighten it out.”

We spoke to several government officials. State officials blame Miami-Dade and Broward counties for the confusion. The counties blame the state. One county official told me we don’t know how we will handle specialty contractors. The lawyers will have to sort it out.

The Miami-Dade County Commission even asked the state to repeal the law or fix it, but Senator Keith Perry from North Florida, who sponsored the bill, told us the law is not confusing and is simple: “If you’re not required to have a license by the state, the local government cannot require a license to pull a permit.”

Nestor doesn’t think it will be that easy in Miami-Dade and Broward.

Nestor Lopez: “I don’t see it happening, especially since the county wants their money. I don’t see it happening.”

Nestor isn’t sure politicians who created the mess can fix it, so he may head to court.

Nestor Lopez: “And see if we do a class action lawsuit with all the the companies that are going to be affected. That’s about the only thing I can think of to do.”

A lawsuit would probably work, but that would cost Nestor a lot of money. What could be better is for the legislature to clear up the confusion before the law goes into effect. We will let you know what happens because thousands of small businesses in South Florida will be affected.

A problem got you fenced in? You don’t need a license to take care of it. Permit us to help and see if we can open the gate to a logical solution.

With this Help Me Howard, I’m Patrick Fraser, 7News.

Reporter: Patrick Fraser at
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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