After you file a complaint
This section talks about how CSLB addresses complaints and the procedures that CSLB follows once your complaint has been filed.
There are a number of steps that are taken once you file a complaint with CSLB.
CSLB determines if it has jurisdiction. CSLB has jurisdiction over contractors for up to four years from the date of the violation, and up to ten years for some hidden structural defects.
ALERT If the contractor you file a complaint against is unlicensed, there are limits to what CSLB can do. CSLB may cite him or her and impose a fine of up to $15,000, or refer the case to the local district attorney for prosecution. But, CSLB cannot require an unlicensed person to make repairs on your project.
Send Contact Letters
CSLB's Intake/Mediation Center sends contact letters to both you and your contractor. The letter to the contractor urges him or her to resolve the complaint immediately.
If your complaint is not resolved at this point, it is assigned to a Consumer Services Representative (CSR). Because of resource constraints, CSLB must also prioritize how your complaint will be handled.
Complaints involving a threat to public health and safety, and cases where consumers have suffered a significant financial injury are given the highest priority. CSLB also prioritizes complaints based on:
- The order of receipt;
- The nature and seriousness of the allegations;
- Available CSLB resources, including budget and staffing
Request Additional Information
The CSR will contact you and the contractor to request additional information and/or documents and will attempt to mediate the complaint. Your ability to present well documented evidence will help speed up your case.
TIP This is often the best time to resolve a construction dispute, before the parties get entrenched in their positions, and because you may avoid legal costs.
Consider Arbitration, Small Claims or other Civil Remedies
The CSR can recommend that your complaint be referred to CSLB-sponsored arbitration. In some cases CSLB may recommend that you use the small claims court or other civil remedies.
If the contractor's actions were not egregious and the contractor's history does not reflect a pattern of violations, the complaint may be closed with a warning letter to the contractor. A warning letter remains a matter of record and could support further action against the contractor if future violations occur.
Send to Field Investigation
If your complaint involves a probable violation of Contractors License Law, it may be transferred to an Enforcement Representative (ER) for field investigation. The ER assigned to investigate the complaint will interview you, your contractor and any other people who can furnish relevant information.
Issue Citation or Accusation
If violations by a licensed contractor are found, CSLB may issue a citation or file an accusation to suspend or revoke the contractor's license.
Citations may include civil penalties of up to $2,000 and/or orders of correction requiring the contractor to make repairs to your project or pay you to hire others to do so.
REMEMBER A CSLB investigation does not guarantee that you'll receive restitution.
ALERT If your primary interest is to get back the money you paid to a contractor, you should consider civil action. If you're considering legal action to recover damages of $10,000 or less, CSLB may provide you information to help you file a small claims court action or direct you to see the clerk of the small claims court.
How long the complaint process takes
CSLB sends both parties a contact letter within 2-3 weeks from when the complaint was filed. Assigning the complaint to a Consumer Services Representative (CSR) depends on the workload of CSLB's Intake/Mediation Center. Complaints are handled based on the order in which they are received and the nature of the allegations. The most serious or dangerous problems are handled first.
The following factors affect the time it takes to resolve a complaint:
- How serious is the nature of the complaint?
- Are the necessary documents available?
- Is the contractor cooperating?
- Are other law enforcement agencies involved in the process?
- What level of evidence is required?
- What is the volume or backlog of previous complaints and their severity?
- What CSLB staff and resources are available?
Keeping You Informed about the Status of Your Complaint
In order to keep you posted on the status of your complaint during what can be a lengthy process, CSLB will notify you when:
- The complaint is received and assigned to a CSR;
- The complaint is transferred to an Investigation Center (if mediation fails to resolve it);
- A citation or accusation is issued; and/or
- The complaint is closed
You May Qualify for a CSLB arbitration program if:
- Your contractor is licensed in California; and
- You have not already filed civil litigation (taken the contractor to court); and
- The facts in your complaint meet certain legal criteria
If the CSR or ER determines that a CSLB arbitration program is appropriate in your case, you will receive an arbitration brochure and a form to sign, which CSLB will use to refer your complaint to arbitration and schedule a hearing. CSLB will pay for the arbitrator, as well as one expert witness, if needed, and the arbitration hearing. (If your contract contains a private arbitration clause, you may be referred to the applicable arbitration process specified in that contract.)
The biggest advantages of using CSLB-sponsored arbitration are cost, speed and ease of use.
- Arbitration is free. The CSLB pays the cost of the program;
- Arbitration is fast. It takes approximately 120 days to resolve a dispute;
- Arbitration provides an informal setting to resolve a dispute;
- Arbitration is binding;
- The Superior Court can enforce the arbitration award;
- If the contractor fails to comply with the award, his/her license will be suspended and after a year, revoked