State Contractors Board Nabs Shady Operators in Sun City
Retirement community is location of latest undercover sting operation
SACRAMENTO — Phony contractors may have been looking for easy money when they showed up to bid on jobs at a house in the Riverside County retirement community of Sun City. But, what they got instead was a lesson from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) on the penalties of contracting without a license.
Members of the CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners on Thursday June 8 and invited suspected unlicensed contractors to the house to bid on various home improvement projects that included landscaping, concrete work and painting. The suspects were gathered from a list of consumer complaints, illegal ads, and repeat offenders. The enforcement action was done with support from the Riverside County District Attorney and Sheriff's Department.
During the sting, 14 operators were given a "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before Riverside 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 of the operators who was arrested was wanted on a felony warrant for illegally contracting in a fire disaster area a few years ago. Another man who took money from consumers for jobs that he didn't complete was also arrested. Drugs and drug paraphernalia were also found on him during a search.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. "Illegal operators skirt the law and many times have other legal problems that can put homeowners in real danger," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Plus, homeowners need to be aware that if they use unlicensed contractors there is little recourse with the financial, insurance or bad workmanship problems that often occur."
The CSLB conducts sting operations on an almost weekly basis, to highlight the dangers of hiring unlicensed workers, and to educate unlicensed workers about California laws. Contractors need to say if they are unlicensed or have their license number on their ad if they hold a valid California contractors license. The individuals cited were each given applications to become legitimate licensed contractors.
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 302,000 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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