FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the best tool for deterring unlicensed work and ensuring licensing law compliance by licensees?
A prepared consumer.  When a consumer,

  • uses the DCCA and/or RICO website to research a service provider; and/or
  • checks the service provider’s online reviews; and/or
  • asks the provider for references and then follows up on the information; and/or
  • obtains more than 1 opinion or quote for a job; and/or
  • communicates regularly or often with the service provider;

the consumer will never unknowingly hire an unlicensed person nor is the person likely to end up in a dispute with the licensed professional or tradesperson that they hired for the job.

What should a consumer know before filing a complaint with RICO?
Several things, such as:

  • Money is not required. There is no fee or charge to file a complaint or report unlicensed activity.
  • An attorney or representative is not necessary, but one can file a complaint on a person’s behalf.
  • Immediacy is encouraged but not required. Consumers can try to resolve the issue or dispute through “Self-Help.”
  • Organization helps. Gather, organize and photocopy relevant paperwork such as contracts, emails, photographs, invoices, records of payment, etc., and then include the copies with the complaint.
  • A signature is needed. Review carefully and then date and sign the complaint form.
  • Include the records authorization for health matters. Sign and include the authorization to release health records form when filing complaints against licensed healthcare providers.
  • Confidential & non-confidential information. The information and records provided to support or defend a RICO complaint are not made public unless disclosure is required by law or will aid in RICO’s enforcement.  The complainant’s identity, and the allegations and claims they make, are disclosed to the respondent.

How does RICO process complaints?
RICO is comprised of three sections that participate in complaints processing daily: the Consumer Resource Center, the Field Investigations Section, and the Legal Section.

  • Intake by the Consumer Resource Center. Complaints are screened for jurisdiction and appropriateness by an investigator in the Consumer Resource Center (Center) who is familiar with the licensing laws governing the regulated industries.  If the complaint meets the jurisdictional threshold and is appropriate for RICO review, it could be investigated fully by the intake investigator and then referred to the Legal section for review, or referred to the Field section for further handling.
  • Field investigations. Complaints that may involve licensing law violations are handled by the Field Section.  They review information and gather evidence and may refer matters that involve potential licensing law violations to the Legal Section for further review.
  • Legal review and enforcement. Attorneys in the legal section review complaints for possible enforcement action such as discipline in the case of licensees, or the filing of a lawsuit in the case of unlicensed activity.

What happens when a report or tip of unlicensed activity is received by RICO?
The tip or report is reviewed expeditiously by an intake investigator and then referred to the unlicensed task force for prompt review and action.

Who are the parties to a RICO matter; what role do they play in the complaints review process?
There are often two parties to a RICO matter,  a complainant and a respondent, but some complaints are filed “anonymously” too.

  • The person filing a complaint is the complaining witness and they may be contacted by an investigator to acknowledge receipt of the complaint, to schedule an interview, or to get or clarify information.   Complainants may also be called upon to testify if the Legal section prosecutes a licensee or unlicensed person based on the complaint.

Complainants do not determine the course or scope of the investigation, but they will receive status updates.

Complainants are not clients of RICO so the RICO investigators and attorneys do not represent them.   RICO represents the interests of the State of Hawaii as a whole by looking out for the health, safety and welfare of all consumers of services offered in a regulated industry.

  • Respondents. The person against whom a complaint is filed is the responding party.   Respondents are contacted by the RICO investigator and given an opportunity to respond in writing to the allegations that have been made and to produce information and documents in their defense.

Respondents do not determine the course or scope of a RICO investigation, but they will receive status updates.

  • Anonymous filers. Persons who file a complaint or report unlicensed activity but choose not to disclose their identity, or decline to be affiliated with a complaint, will not receive  updates on the matter.

Is there an average time for processing a complaint?
No.  Case processing can range from a few months to a year or even longer, depending on factors such as the seriousness of a matter, the complexity of the issues, the depth of investigation required, and whether the matter can be resolved informally through settlement.  If a contested case proceeding or lawsuit is initiated, even more time and resources may be required to bring the matter to an end.  Therefore, complainants should seek the advice of counsel and/or consult with an attorney immediately if they hope to recover monetary damages or compensation from a licensee or unlicensed person.

Do all complaints end with formal enforcement action?
No.  Every year enforcement action is taken in hundreds of complaints based on credible and reliable evidence but most complaints will not get that far.  Many of them that concern a licensee may not make it past the Consumer Resource Center investigators because they fall outside of RICO’s subject matter jurisdiction, such as labor, wages and other employer/employee relations, contractual disputes, billing disputes, and personality conflicts.  Even matters more directly-connected to a licensee’s services may not be pursued by RICO too.  For example, if a homeowner files a RICO complaint because the plumber ran over their child’s bicycle as the plumber backed out of the driveway after fixing the homeowner’s sink, the Center will close the complaint even though the homeowner may have a legitimate dispute against the licensee involving the child’s bicycle.  Likewise, if a patient files a complaint against his doctor because he was forced to wait more than an hour after his scheduled appointment to be seen, or if a customer files a complaint against a massage therapist because the customer learned, after-the-fact, that their therapist charges $50.00 more than others in the area, both complaints would be closed even though the patient and customer seem to have valid concerns.

Even when a complaint makes it past the intake investigator’s screening, many are closed for a variety of good reasons too, including lack of credible evidence to support a violation, lack of jurisdiction, the parties were able to resolve their dispute on their own or through alternative dispute resolution, the complainant chooses to withdraw a matter, the issue has been addressed in a civil lawsuit between the parties, an education contact or warning issued, enforcement action had been taken previously, the complainant or another important witness is no longer cooperating, or the matter was referred to another organization or agency.

Are there other options available if enforcement action is not taken on a complaint?
Yes.   The parties can still attempt to work out a resolution on their own.  The advice of an attorney can be sought out.  Checking with another organization or agency may prove helpful.  Checking with the regulated industry’s licensing board on whether they have a fund that consumers can claim against because of the ill practices of a licensee, may be helpful too.  As of 2021, the Contractor’s Licensing Board and the Real Estate Commission have such funds.