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CSLB Press Release - 03/16/2004

Ask the Contractors Board ...

Experts Answer Common Home Improvement Questions

By Anthony Elmo, Chair


SACRAMENTO — Do you have questions about hiring and managing building contractors? The California Contractors State License Board has answers. For more information, or to check out a contractor, visit the CSLB Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov.


Q: I hired a contractor to remodel my bathroom and expected it to be finished while I was out of town. When I returned, the job was not completed and the contractor keeps stalling. I'm really frustrated. What should I do?

A: First of all, check your written contract. A home improvement contract must include, among other items, the approximate dates when the work will begin and be completed. For example, the contract should read "Begin approximately April 20 and end approximately April 30," not "Complete the job in 10 days." This eliminates the possibility that the contractor will take 10 days to finish the job but spread them out over the span of a year. The dates should be approximate since external factors such as the weather or a delay in materials shipments are beyond the control of the contractor.

Your home improvement contract must also include a description of what is a substantial commencement of work. Failure by the contractor, without lawful excuse, to substantially begin work within 20 days from the approximate start date is a violation of contractor law. In that case, the homeowner can postpone the next payment to the contractor for a period of time that is equivalent to the time between when substantial commencement was to have occurred and when it did occur.

You can allow the contractor to take more time to finish the project; however, get it in writing. Require that the contractor prepare a written change order specifying the new approximate completion date.

For more information about home improvement contracts, go to CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov and review the publication, "Home Improvement Contracts: Putting the Pieces Together."


Q: While replacing my roof, one of the roofing company's workers fell and injured himself. Am I responsible?

A: You shouldn't be, but you could end up paying if the injured worker isn't insured by his employer. The company that employs the roofer should be responsible for injuries its workers suffer while on the job. Businesses, including contracting companies such as the one you hired, must carry workers' compensation insurance for workers they employ. You can verify that the roofing contractor has workers' compensation insurance by going to the Contractors State License Board's (CSLB) Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov and checking the contractor's license. If the roofing company doesn't have workers' compensation insurance for the employee, the company is operating illegally and could be cited by the Contractors State License Board.

Workers' compensation insurance is a no-fault insurance plan purchased by the contractor and administered by the state. It limits the employer's liability, avoids costly lawsuits, and it guarantees that an injured worker receives prompt and complete medical treatment and specific benefits for job-related injury or illness, including rehabilitation if necessary.

In the end, if the roofer who was injured on your property is not insured, you could be asked to pay for it through your own homeowner's insurance policy.

To guard against such a scenario, before you hire a contracting company that employs workers, check the CSLB Web site to verify that the company's contractors license is current and active and that they carry workers' compensation insurance. Then ask to see the insurance certificate. Go to CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov.


Q: My mother lives in a mobile home park for seniors. Someone came to her door stating that her roof needed to be fixed and offered to do the work. What should she do about these kinds of solicitors?

A: First of all, your mother shouldn't feel intimidated, but she should beware of door-to-door solicitors. If salespeople have come uninvited to her door, she is under no obligation to entertain their sales pitch. Solicitors in mobile home parks and communities for seniors are the source of many complaints to the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). Some unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors target senior citizens for overpriced repairs that are unnecessary, and then they either do a shoddy job or never complete the work at all. They give phony names, telephone numbers and business addresses, so they can't be tracked down later.

Seniors are often targeted for a number of reasons: they have discretionary funds accumulated from a lifetime of saving; their homes are often old and in need of repair; they have a trusting nature; they often live alone and feel intimidated; and they hesitate to report fraud.

Crooked contractors will use high pressure or scare tactics to get a senior citizen's attention by claiming that the roof, plumbing or electrical system is faulty and dangerous and work must be done immediately. These fraudulent contractors often claim that they have just finished a painting or driveway repair job at a neighbor's house, have leftover material, and can give the homeowner a good deal -- only if a decision is made immediately. Usually these claims are phony. All too often, they take the senior's money and run.

The CSLB urges senior homeowners to follow these tips when dealing with solicitors and when hiring a contractor:

  • Take your time in making a decision about hiring a contractor
  • Don't be pressured into hiring a door-to-door solicitor
  • Hire only licensed contractors and check the license on CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov
  • Get three bids
  • Get a written contract
  • Pay only 10 percent down, or $1,000, whichever is less of the contract amount
  • Never pay cash
  • Don't let your payments get ahead of the work
  • Ask a friend, neighbor or relative to verify that work needs to be done and to look over the written contract
  • Go to CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov for free consumer publications, including "What Seniors Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor."

Anthony Elmo is the Chairman of the Contractors State License Board, and the Director of Building and Safety for the City of Temecula. The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 278,000 contractors, and investigates 25,000 complaints against contractors annually.