How to spot a lawn care contractor operating without proper licensure

Written by Gene Caballero on September 29, 2014

Pesticides are dangerous; we all know that—especially the commercial use pesticides applied by the professionals to control unwanted pests and weeds; if not properly applied and handled, the adverse repercussions could be serious.  During my 15 years as a lawn care service professional, I observed companies flying below the radar, everyday performing dangerous practices at their customers’ properties.   This typically occurs when a homeowner contracts the guy mowing the lawn to also spray for weeds, or treat for insect infestation.  This can be dangerous if the lawn care guy doesn't have the proper training and licenses in place.  Lawn mowing and lawn care are two different disciplines.

Why is it important for your service provider to have the property license in place? Obtaining a license or charter to apply pesticides is a rigorous process for the lawn care professional.  The company will have to pass an extensive set of exams, making sure they have the knowledge base for proper application and safety; the company will also have to implement and maintain a proper level of insurance. That’s just the beginning; in most jurisdictions they will be subject to at a minimum annual inspection by the state to check record keeping, proper safety procedures, and any violations.   Should the company receive too many complaints or violations, they will lose their license; this is a good function to hold service providers accountable, and make them, overall, better professionals for their customers.  In addition to all this, the company and its technicians will have to undergo continuing education, and re-certification.  This is all to protect the environment and the public. These checks and regulations make sure the companies and technicians applying pesticides are qualified and properly following the laws and regulations

So how do you know if the company servicing your lawn or your neighbor’s property has the proper licenses in place?  Here are a few ways to find out:

  1. Place a call to your local governing body that handles the regulation of commercial pesticide use.  Usually this is your local agriculture dept. There is no national registry for licensed pesticide applicators; however, a local internet search for “licensed pesticide applicators” will steer you in the right direction. Call the extension office and check; many have published online the licensed companies in your area.
  2. Check of the company’s vehicle.  In most areas, companies applying pesticides are required to display their company charter number or license number on both sides of the vehicle.  Take the number down, and it would be a good idea to confirm it with your local regulatory body.
  3. Ask the owner or representative to provide a copy of their charter or license.
  4. If you are working with a national organization, it’s highly likely they have the proper local licenses in place.  However, I would strongly encourage asking to the see the certification for the actual applicator conducting the services at your property.  Many large scale organizations have high turnover and do not keep their employees long.  I have spoken with many customers over the years about their experiences working with national, large scale companies and franchises; in many cases, they would see 4 or 5 different applicators in a given year.  It is often the case that a new technician will be hired and begin training to pass the applicator test. In many cases he will not remain with the company long enough to get the certification card he is required to have.  The company will then hire another tech, throw him out in the field, and the cycle continues.   This is just as critical as the company being properly licensed; as the technician at your property is actually performing the work, it is imperative that he has been trained on proper safety and application and that these proficiencies are verified by your state.

There will be several quality, licensed services providers in your area to keep your lawn and landscape in top notch shape; don’t risk your lawn or potentials or family’s safety by working with a company flying below the radar. Should you find a contractor performing or soliciting lawn care services that uses chemical applications, it would be prudent to report them to your governing agency. The agency will give them an initial warning and then take action should the unlicensed contractor persist.  This is necessary for public safety, and the service provider will also be better for it.

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