IN the wild world of home-remodeling contracting, sometimes you get what you pay for. But other times, you don’t even get that. That’s because in the real estate boom of Southern California, unscrupulous contractors have multiplied like flies on spoiled food. And having a license does not even guarantee good – or completed – work. Too many people have found this out after paying out thousands of dollars. Among them are Elmer Cortez, who says an unlicensed contractor took $37,000 and left him a messy pit filled with beer bottles, and Sam Rosa, whose parents lost $18,000 to a contractor who walked off in the middle of renovating their duplex. These two might wring out some measure of justice, as the Los Angeles city attorney, Rocky Delgadillo, is prosecuting 32 contractors accused of ripping off property owners. But this crackdown will hardly dent the scope of the problem. The high demand for home renovation has made it easy for anyone to put up a shingle and call himself a contractor. That means that the public is mostly on its own when hiring a contractor – licensed or not – and must be vigilant. It’s clear that the authorities have neither the time nor the resources to police this industry. And, as in sports, the best defense in hiring a contractor is a good offense. After getting bilked, Cortez said he would not be fooled again. “I would have to do my work – make sure to get some references to begin with, a license number, a copy of the driver’s license or ID.” That’s good advice.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!