CSLB Advises Homeowners to Spring Into Home & Garden Projects Responsibly
SACRAMENTO — Springtime has officially arrived in California, and for most homeowners, that means it's home and garden project time. The warm, sunny weather beckons us outdoors, to backyards desperately in need of decks or landscaping, or shines a light on kitchens and bathrooms that need major remodeling, not just a good spring cleaning.
But before you hire a contractor for that exciting new project, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) has some words to the wise: don't let your dream project turn into a spring remodeling horror story. Do your "home improvement homework" and take responsibility for your project. Check out your contractor on the CSLB Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov - verify that the contractor is licensed, that the license is in good standing, and that the contractor is qualified to perform the work your project entails.
Every day, the CSLB hears from California homeowners whose dream projects turned into nightmares. CSLB investigates 25,000 complaints against licensed and unlicensed contractors annually. Problems brought to the CSLB range from inability to reach the contractor or to get them to show up, to poor workmanship, to outright project abandonment.
For example, a $73,000 home remodeling job cost a Santa Rosa couple an additional $84,000 in repairs and mold damage remediation. They hired a contractor to build an addition, including a bathroom, to their home. After the job was complete and the contractor was paid, mold began appearing in the bathroom. Treatments failed to correct the problem, and the contractor told the homeowners that they just needed to open the window when they showered. However, an investigation revealed numerous structural defects, including blocked vents and vapor barriers installed backwards.
And in San Diego, more than 15 homeowners were ripped off by two unlicensed contractors operating Bayshore Industries, a sunroom business that promised to build expensive conservatories. The pair, who recently pled guilty to two felony counts of grand theft, were ordered to serve probation and pay more than $160,000 in restitution to their victims. Their M.O.: getting homeowners to agree to pay for materials and work that was never delivered. Sometimes up to 90 percent of the entire project price was collected and no work was done. The contractors illegally used someone else's contractor's license number. A quick check of CSLB's Web site would have shown there was no license issued to the phony contractors or the business.
Consumers should beware of contractors whose license numbers don't match up with the business name and personnel. The written contract should specify that no more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, will be paid as a down payment, and it should include a payment schedule that ties payments to completed phases of the project.
In Santa Barbara, an unlicensed contractor established a pattern of contracting to install custom fences, claiming to need additional money, and then abandoning jobs altogether. In one case, he collected a down payment, and once the posts were set, he quit work on the job and collected extra money three more times before finally abandoning the job. The homeowner was forced to hire another contractor to finish the fence - and to pay twice for the job. The CSLB is filing criminal charges against the contractor.
Homeowners should take their time in interviewing and selecting contractors for jobs large and small. Make sure the contractor has the experience and qualifications to competently perform the job. Ask for references, and check with them about the contractor's willingness to answer questions, address concerns, and correct problems.
A Butte County contractor was arrested and charged with grand theft for, among other things, building a deck when he was hired to build a sunroom addition. The CSLB urges homeowners to be specific in their written contract about the work to be done, including the materials that will be used.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. To qualify for a license, one must apply, pass a two-part examination, verify four years of journey level experience, post a license bond, and maintain workers' compensation insurance on all employees of the business.
The CSLB advises consumers to follow these tips when hiring any contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors
- Check the contractor's license on CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov
- Get a written contract
- Do not pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less
- Do not let payments get ahead of the work
- Get three bids and check references
- Do not pay cash
- Order free consumer publications on CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov.
The Contractors State License Board, which operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, licenses 278,000 contractors in California and investigates 25,000 complaints against licensed and unlicensed contractors annually.
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