State Contractors Board Rounds Up Illegal Operators In Redondo Beach
Beach community becomes sand trap for unlicensed contractors
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) rounded up Illegal operators who try and snare consumers through newspaper and yellow pages and other advertising at a sting set up in Redondo Beach. CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) conducted the sting on Wednesday with help from the Redondo Beach Police Department, just blocks away from the Pacific Coast Highway, to warn consumers about the dangers they face if they hire contractors who aren't licensed.
Suspected illegal operators, whose names were gathered from local advertisements, business cards and flyers were invited by SWIFT investigators to the house where they bid on projects that included landscaping, roofing, kitchen and bathroom remodels. 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 Wednesday's undercover sting, 13 people did not have a contractor's license and were given a Notice to Appear (NTA). They must go before at Southwest District Superior Court judge on December 1 and 6 to answer charges of contracting without a license and Illegal advertising. Redondo Beach Police also nabbed three people for driving without a license or driving with a suspended/revoked 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."
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. One of the suspects cited on Wednesday could face a mandatory 90 days or more in jail plus a fine of 20% of the contract price or $4500, since this was the second time he was picked up for unlicensed activity.
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.
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 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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