State Contractors Board Targets Illegal Contractors in Statewide Undercover Stings
Consumer Protection Week Operations Highlight Dangers of Hiring Unlicensed Operators
SACRAMENTO — This week is one of the busiest enforcement periods on record for the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). No less than five undercover sting and sweep operations have been taking place around the state. The CSLB is taking the occasion of National Consumer Protection Week (February 5-11) to remind homeowners that unlicensed operators are a very real threat.
One of the stings was held over two days (Tuesday-Wednesday) in a new subdivision in Elk Grove. The CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnered with the Department of Insurance (DOI), Elk Grove Police and the Elk Grove City Attorney to target suspected unlicensed contractors.
SWIFT members posed as homeowners and invited suspects to the sting location to bid on various home improvement jobs ranging from landscaping, cement and painting to installing wooden floors and building patio covers. Over the two days, a total of 37 individuals showed up to bid on jobs. 43 actions were taken against them.
- 17 were given Notices to Appear in Sacramento County Superior Court to answer misdemeanor charges. 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.
- Eight were taken into custody on felony arrests. These were either repeat offenders, appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or had felony arrest warrants. One was on probation for attempted murder in Texas;
- Seven were given administrative citations, for illegal advertisements and the illegal use of a contractor's license number;
- Five licensed contractors were given citations for aiding and abetting unlicensed activity;
- DOI investigators issued seven insurance code violations for individuals who did not carry workers' compensation insurance for their employees;
- One person who was cited was a State employee on their way to work.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. In addition, before getting a license, all applicants must undergo a criminal background check by the Department of Justice. "Homeowners need to be careful before inviting any contractor into their house or agreeing to have any work done," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Ask to see their state contractor's license and check them out with us first."
Many homeowners don't realize that unlicensed operators rarely, if ever, carry workers' compensation insurance on their employees. If one of them gets hurt on their property the homeowner could be liable. Plus, if a homeowner has problems with the unlicensed operator, they have very few options to go after them.
"Unlicensed contractors endanger not only the finances of the homeowners and businesses who contract with them, but also the crews they hire," said Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi. "Many of these scofflaws operate without workers' compensation insurance - putting their own employees at great personal and financial risk should they be injured." The purpose of the CSLB's undercover operations is to highlight the dangers to consumers who hire unlicensed workers, and to educate unlicensed workers about California laws.
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; and
- Get three bids, check references, and a written contract
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The CSLB licenses and regulates California's 297,000 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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