Ask the Contractors Board ...
Experts Answer Common Home Improvement Questions
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.
I met with a contractor to remodel my kitchen, and he asked for a pre-payment of 50 percent of the job before he starts work. Is this legal?
Not only is it risky to pay 50 percent down on a remodeling project, but it is illegal for the contractor to ask for that amount. By law, the down payment for any home improvement project cannot exceed $1,000 or 10 percent of the project price, whichever is less. For example, if the contract price for your kitchen remodel is $7,500, then your contractor cannot ask for more than $750 as a down payment - 10 percent of the project price. In fact, the down payment price and subsequent payment schedule must be included in your written contract.
Don't pay up front for work that is not done or materials that are not delivered. Make sure your written home improvement contract includes the down payment and payment schedule, the project price, time lines, and a specific description of work to be done.
I recently interviewed some contractors to remodel my home. One gentleman assured me that he had his license but had misplaced his paperwork. How can I verify that he has a valid license?
This is a red flag that there may be something wrong or illegal about the contractor's operation. Once contractors become licensed, the Contractors State License Board issues them a contractors license number on a plastic pocket card, which is to be used as evidence that the licensed contractor is duly licensed. The number is required by law to be printed on all contractor business and advertising documents, such as the bid, contract, print ad, or business card. Homeowners should verify a contractor's license status with the CSLB before agreeing to any work or signing any contracts. Visit CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov. and click on "license status check."
I'm planning to install a new pool in my backyard and want to oversee the project myself. I'd like to hire specialty contractors to handle different parts of the job. Do I need a contractors license or any special permits? Is this recommended?
You have every right to oversee your pool project; however, the Contractors State License Board advises that unless you are very experienced in construction, it is best to leave these matters to a licensed contractor.
A contractors license is not required when you oversee a construction project in your own home, but you need to understand that you become the general contractor and the employer of any worker you hire. If you believe you have the expertise, knowledge and time, and decide to undertake the construction of a pool in your own backyard, you become what is called the "owner-builder."
As owner-builder, you take on all of the responsibility - and the liability - for the overall job: from hiring, scheduling and managing contractors to paying state and federal taxes and getting workers' compensation insurance coverage. Not only are you responsible for the quality of the work done by your employees, but you are liable for pulling building permits and ensuring that each phase of your project is built to code and passes health and safety inspections. You may take on such a project provided your home is not for sale and you don't offer it for sale for one year.
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.
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