Illegal Contractors Swept up By State Contractors Board in Orinda Spring Cleaning Operation
SACRAMENTO — More than a dozen illegal operators showed up for an invitation to a sting house in Orinda where they were nabbed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) for unlicensed activity. Members of the CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed contractors to the house to bid on various home improvement projects, including landscaping, tree trimming, concrete, and deck removal. The enforcement action was done on April 11 in cooperation with the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office.
During Tuesday's sting, 13 operators were given a "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before Contra Costa County Superior Court to answer misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and for advertising violations. 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. One administrative citation was also issued and another case is under investigation for violations of workers compensation laws.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. "You want to make sure you hire the right person to work on your property" said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "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 conducts sting operations on an almost weekly basis to highlight the dangers to consumers who hire unlicensed workers, and to educate unlicensed workers about California laws. In this operation, investigators were targeting repeat offenders, subjects of complaints and blatant violators of advertising law. Contractors need to say if they are unlicensed or have their license number on their ad if they hold a valid California contractors license.
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 299,000 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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