Phony Contractors Land in Trap Set by State Contractors Board
October 13 is unlucky day for unlicensed operators in Rocklin
SACRAMENTO — Illegal operators who try and snare consumers through newspaper and yellow pages advertising and at home shows got caught themselves in a sting set up by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) in South Placer County. CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) conducted a sting on Thursday in Rocklin to address complaints about unlicensed operators in the area and to warn consumers about the dangers they face if they hire contractors who aren't licensed.
Suspected illegal operators, whose names were gathered from repeat offender lists, tips from consumers or licensed contractors, local advertisements and at recent local home shows, were invited by SWIFT investigators to a house near Sierra College where they bid on projects that included concrete, landscaping, painting and roofing When the operators gave a bid over California's legal limit for contracting without a license ($500 in labor and materials), they were arrested, cited and released.
During Thursday's undercover sting, in cooperation with the Placer County District Attorney's Office (DA), seven people did not have a contractor's license and were given a Notice to Appear (NTA). They must go before a Placer County Superior Court judge on December 2 to answer charges of contracting without a license and Illegal advertising. One licensed contractor was given an administrative citation for aiding and abetting unlicensed activity. Two written violation notices were given. One was to a person who was contracting without a license, but had recently applied for a license. The DA caught one person driving with a suspended driver's license.
The fall home improvement season and the boom in home remodeling attracts dishonest individuals looking for easy money. "Homeowners who are anxious to fix up their property should check out who they hire," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "The first step is making sure they're licensed. Unlicensed operators could very easily have criminal records since they operate outside the law on other levels." The CSLB also warns homeowners not to assume that operators they meet at fall home shows are licensed. "Don't let an impressive booth or low home show prices blind you to the importance of checking them out before hiring them," added Sands.
SWIFT conducts undercover stings and sweeps several times a month up and down the state. Their objective is to protect consumers from fraud and scam artists and level the playing field for licensed contractors who follow the law. Because unlicensed operators often pay their workers in cash and do not provide workers' compensation insurance, they can underbid licensed and qualified contractors. But, if a worker is injured, the homeowner could be considered liable. Plus, if a deal goes bad with an unlicensed contractor, the homeowner has few options.
Each unlicensed operator nabbed in the sting was given a contractor's license application and urged to go straight by "getting a license" before they go after home improvement jobs again. A first violation could result in a maximum six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. A second offense carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
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 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.
The CSLB urges consumers to follow these tips when dealing with a contractor:
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license
- 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 292,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2004-05, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million in restitution.
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