Unlicensed Operators Nabbed in State Contractors Board Undercover Sting and Sweep in Stockton
Felony arrests highlight dangers of hiring illegal operators
SACRAMENTO — A house near the University of the Pacific in Stockton was used by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) to teach unlicensed operators a lesson. Members of the CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners and invited suspected unlicensed contractors to the sting house to bid on various home improvement projects, including landscaping, tree trimming, concrete, plumbing and air conditioning. The enforcement action was done yesterday (March 29) in cooperation with the Stockton Police Department, San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office and the State Department of Insurance. Today, SWIFT members swept through construction sites around Stockton, looking for unlicensed activity, as well as contractors paying their workers under the table and not covering them with workers' compensation insurance.
During Wednesday's sting, three operators were arrested. One had a $20,000 arrest warrant for sexual assault. Another was still using a contractor's license number that was revoked by the CSLB in 2000 and had other tax and employment violations. Nine others were given "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before a San Joaquin County Superior Court judge on May 31st 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. Four administrative citations and two licensee citations were issued. One vehicle was towed. During Thursday's sweep, five administrative citations for contracting without a license were issued and one arrest was made.
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. "The arrest of a man with a sexual assault warrant shows just why homeowners need to be careful before inviting any contractor into their house," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "You want to make sure you hire the right person." Also, 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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