Bill would force landscapers to register with state

Bill would force landscapers to register with state

A Rhode Island senator wants landscapers to register their businesses with the state and carry insurance. The requirements are geared at helping legitimate landscapers differentiate themselves from non-tax-payers, which is a problem contractors face across the country.

January 20, 2011
Providence Journal
Industry News

They’re the people who push the mowers and clean up the debris, leaving lawns and yards looking spiffy while the owners are working or playing or doing something better with their time.

Until now, landscapers have not had to register with the state, but that may be about to change.

A bill sponsored last week by Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, Rhode Island, would require landscapers to register with the state and it would also require them to carry “not less than” $100,000 in public liability and property damage insurance.

Tassoni says the goal of his bill is to “level the playing field” between legitimate landscaping operations and people who do landscaping work without paying taxes on their income.

“I’ve had a number of complaints from local landscapers,” he said. “They’re complaining about these fly-by-night landscapers that put a lawnmower in the car, they do a job for $20 cash, and the state’s losing a lot of money for income-tax purposes and also sales-tax purposes.”

The conflict arises when legitimate and fly-by-night landscapers cross paths and bid on the same jobs, usually smaller ones, Tassoni said. Often, he said, it is the legitimate landscapers who are at a disadvantage.

“They carry an enormous amount of insurance and they do everything by the book,” he said. “That’s overhead for them, and the other guy has no overhead.”

Tassoni said he was not sure what it would cost smaller landscapers to carry insurance, nor was he sure what it could cost them to register with the state Board of Examiners of Landscape Architects, which would be the point of contact should his bill be adopted.

As its name implies, the board oversees “landscape architects” — a different breed of landscapers who must have college degrees and on-the-job experience and must also pass tests to work in Rhode Island. Each individual landscape architect must pay a registration fee — $80 every two years — and the company a landscape architect works for, even if it is a sole proprietorship — must pay a license fee of $120 every two years, a spokeswoman for the board said.

It remains to be seen how Tassoni’s bill will be received among landscapers. Calls to two landscaping businesses were not returned, and a call and e-mail to the Rhode Island Nursery and Landscapers Association also were not returned.

A spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, an advocacy group for taxpayers and businesses, expressed concern that Tassoni’s bill might hurt smaller landscaping businesses and make it more difficult for them to do business in Rhode Island.

“It seems designed to favor the largest players in the landscape business, and run some of the smallest ones out of it,” said RISC spokeswoman Donna Perry.

Requiring landscapers to register with the state is not unheard of. For instance, Texas and North Carolina require that they register; Pennsylvania does not.

Tassoni initially said his bill, S0007, would not affect high school students who cut lawns on the side, but later indicated that he will refile the bill this week with wording that specifies the law would not apply to them.