Unsuspecting homeowners can lay themselves open to “major grief”.

It can be a temptation. Plumbers, drainlayers and gasfitters can be hard to find when you need them - and there's another guy offering the job done at a much cheaper rate.

But here are the top 8 reasons why you should never hire an unlicensed "cowboy" operator and should always ask tradesmen to produce their licence card. Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board CEO Martin Sawyers says it can cause "major grief" if such a card is not produced and homeowners hire a cowboy anyway.

1. It's illegal - by law, homeowners and landlords must hire authorised plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers for a wide range of restricted tasks. That's because, as Sawyers says, what often seem simple tasks are actually complicated when it comes to tapping into plumbing and gasfitting systems.

2. Hefty fines - ranging between maximums of $10,000 and $50,000, fines for work done by an unlicensed tradesman can be punishing.


3. Invalid insurance - while those fines are usually aimed at the unauthorised tradesmen, the homeowner can lose out as well. If something goes wrong with an unauthorised renovation, for example, and a house is flooded or damaged, the owner's insurance may not apply - giving the homeowner a much bigger headache (and bill) than if they'd had the work done by a licensed operator in the first place.

4. Passing on the problem - using a cowboy can place someone else in severe financial strife. Even if you hire a cowboy and the project is successful, it is still unlicensed work. If a prospective buyer purchases a LIM report, or another review of the property which identifies the work, it could cost a sale. Worse, if the property is sold with unlicensed renovations, there can be complicated and expensive legal blowbacks if the new owners take action.

5. Shoddy work - never mind the price, check the quality...A couple in Wellington a few years ago were left severely out of pocket when their cowboy charged $13,000 for a bathroom and ensuite upgrade. After they declined to pay more, the tradesman disappeared - leaving behind a toilet which leaked raw sewage, water dropping onto wires and down the walls, a stained ceiling, peeling wallpaper and staining spreading to a downstairs bedroom.

6. Paying out more to fix it - the unauthorised tradesman in the above example was fined $3800 and $245 costs for carrying out plumbing without being registered or licensed - but the couple ended up way worse off. They paid $50,000 to get the bathroom they wanted. As Sawyers says: "It's a buoyant construction market and, unfortunately, when some people see the chance to make a dollar, they are into it."

7. Danger - a major concern and the main reason plumbers, gasfitters and drainlayers must be licensed. An unauthorised workman who installed an LPG refrigerator and a flue in a motor home illustrates the point: the work was judged defective by a registered gasfitter, called when the owner of the motor home noticed a bad smell coming from the refrigerator that had made her feel ill and light-headed. The gasfitter considered the defect to be immediately dangerous to life - and reported it, with the unauthorised tradesman later convicted and fined $4000. Sawyers has seen reports of illegal jobs he considers to have been "ticking time bombs".

8. Supporting a black market industry - while cowboys can seem harmless enough and cheaper in theory, they are part of a hidden industry which benefits no one save the cowboys themselves. In some cases, the misery they cause goes beyond dollar costs - like the cowboys who surfaced after the earthquakes in Kaikoura and Christchurch, leaving behind some shoddy work and unhappy homeowners made even unhappier by these supposed "solutions".

Sawyers says there are various options for members of the public when it comes to choosing a tradesman or reporting illegal and unsatisfactory work:

• Sight the card- ask the tradesman for his licence card. If it is not produced, do not hire them, he says.

• The Report A Cowboy (RAC) app, launched by the PGDB last year, is downloadable from the PGDB website and there have been 10,000 downloads so far and 126 complaints laid over the app.


• The PGDB's "Sort the pros from the cons" campaign has helped make homeowners and landlords realise they had only to ask for a registered tradesman to produce a licence card issued by the PDGB to be sure they were dealing with a bona fide professional.

"We are not doing this to protect plumbers - it's to protect homeowners," says Sawyers. "Plumbers take four years to qualify and there are good reasons why it takes that long. A lot of the work they do is skilled, simple as that."