State Contractors Board Stings Unlicensed Operators in San Diego Area Undercover Operation
Stings and Sweeps Put Focus on Huge Underground Economy
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is alerting consumers to the dangers of hiring unlicensed contractors following a successful sting and sweep in Chula Vista. CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), in partnership with the Chula Vista Police Department and Chula Vista Planning and Building Department, conducted the two-day undercover operation. California's huge underground economy is fueled in part by unlicensed contractors who prey upon consumers and hurt legitimate business people. It is estimated that California loses between $60 and $140 billion a year in revenue due to this underground economy.
On Wednesday, SWIFT investigators posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed contractors to a sting house to bid on various jobs ranging from a new swimming pool to painting, concrete and landscaping. Thursday, investigators swept through dozens of homes in new subdivisions, checking for landscapers working without a license. The purpose of these joint operations is to highlight the problems that occur because of the underground system, the dangers to consumers who hire unlicensed workers, and to educate unlicensed workers about California laws. By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. Because many unlicensed operators don't comply with the workers compensation laws, they often submit lower bids on jobs. But, if one of their workers is injured on the job, the homeowner could be considered liable. And, if a deal goes bad with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has very few options.
SWIFT investigators caught 23 unlicensed contractors in the sting/sweep. In the Wednesday sting, 13 "Notices to Appear" (NTA) were given to suspects to appear before a Superior Court judge to face misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license. The charges carry a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine for the first offense. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence. In addition, the Chula Vista Police Department impounded the vehicles of eight of the unlicensed contractors because they were driving without a driver's license or with a suspended license. Thursday's sweep resulted in 10 administrative citations with $14,250 in civil penalties for contracting without a license.
"Consumers may think they can save money by hiring an unlicensed contractor," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "But, they're feeding the underground economy and setting themselves up for potentially big problems. If something does go wrong, we're limited as to how we can help them."
Before hiring any contractor, homeowners should go online or call CSLB's automated phone system to verify that he/she holds a valid license. They can also check out the contractor's license history and get bond and personnel information.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a building contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license;
- Don't rush into decisions and don't hire the first contractor who comes along;
- Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door, especially when they will use material they claim is left over from another job;
- Verify the contractor's license by checking online or via CSLB's automated phone service at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less;
- Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work;
- Get three bids, check references, and a written contract; and
- Contact the CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 292,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually.
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