State Contractors Board Goes Undercover to Sting Unlicensed Operators
Those arrested and cited include out-of-state phony contractor
NORWALK — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning consumers about the dangers of hiring unlicensed contractors following a successful sting operation in the city of Norwalk. CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), in cooperation with the Norwalk Building and Safety Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol, conducted the undercover operation to underscore the fact that illegal contractors are operating all across Southern California.
SWIFT investigators stung a total of 11 unlicensed contractors in yesterday's undercover operation. The phony contractors were arrested and cited for contracting without a license. Their violations include biding for jobs that require a contractors license, asking for illegally large down payments, illegal advertising and illegally using someone else's contractors license.
The SWIFT undercover operatives invited suspected unlicensed contractors to a secret sting location in Norwalk. When they bid on various home improvement jobs, including landscaping, demolition, painting and concrete, 10 were arrested and issued Notices to Appear (NTA) in Los Angeles County Superior Court. They could face a maximum of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine for a first offense. Two others face administrative citations. One was cited for contracting with an expired license. A licensed contractor is being cited for allowing his contractors license number to be used by someone else.
SWIFT investigators were also able to sting a suspected out-of-state phony contractor. This type of criminal travels around California, offering home improvement services door-to-door with what they say is leftover material from another job. This type of traveling criminal is the subject of a CSLB Consumer Alert issued earlier this week.
The objective of undercover stings, which are conducted around the State, is to level the playing field for licensed contractors competing in the local business area, and to protect consumers from fraud and scam artists. "This sting is proof that homeowners need to be aware of who they're hiring to make improvements to their home, said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Don't rush to get the job done. Investing a few minutes before making any choices could save thousands of dollars and a lot of headaches." Before hiring a contractor, homeowners should go online or call CSLB's automated phone system to see if a contractor has a valid license. They can also check out the contractor's license history and get bond and personnel information.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. Because of their non- compliance with the workers compensation guidelines, unlicensed contractors often submit lower bids on jobs. If a worker is injured on the job, the homeowner could be considered liable. And, if a deal goes bad with unlicensed contractors, the homeowner has very few options.
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 get a written contract
- 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 278,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually.
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