Phony Contractors in Fountain Valley Caught in Sting
State Contractors Board conducts undercover operation in Orange County community
SACRAMENTO — A house in a residential area off Brookhurst Street was used by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) to catch illegal contractors trying to make a quick buck off Fountain Valley residents. 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 that included: landscaping, ceramic work, concrete and painting.
The enforcement action was conducted on Thursday (June 29) in cooperation with the Fountain Valley Police Department. The sting resulted in 12 unlicensed operators getting a "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before an Orange County Superior Court judge to answer to misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license and for advertising violations. Two of the individuals checked out by the Fountain Valley Police Department had suspicious identification cards. One man had a couple of different social security numbers and a couple of different driver's licenses.
"Take the time to check out a contractor before you hire them for any projects around the house," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Make sure they are who they say they are, and that they are qualified to do the job." 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.
Fountain Valley Mayor Cheryl Brothers was at the sting house observing the operation for much of the day. "Partnerships with agencies like the Contractors Board are valuable," said Mayor Brothers "It gives us an additional tool to go after operators who are trying to take advantage of our residents."
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. In addition, anyone licensed by the CSLB after January 1, 2005 first undergoes a complete background check by the Dept. of Justice before being given a license. First-time convictions carry a maximum of six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. A second violation carries a mandatory 90-day jail sentence.
The CSLB conducts sting operations on an almost weekly basis to highlight the dangers for consumers who hire unlicensed workers, and to educate unlicensed workers about California laws. The individuals invited to the sting all had Orange County or Southern California addresses. Their names were gathered from complaints, repeat offender lists or illegal ads. (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 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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