Illegal Contractors Caught in Spring Clean-up Operation By CSLB in Hillsborough
Consumers face real threat from phony operators
Sacramento — Illegal operators who showed up at a sting house in Hillsborough where swept up 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 electrical. The enforcement action was done on April 19 in cooperation with the Hillsborough Building Department and the Hillsborough Police Department.
During Thursday sting, eight operators were given a "Notices to Appear" (NTA) before San Mateo County Superior Court in about one month, to answer misdemeanor charges of contracting without a license, advertising violations, and selling without being registered (Business & Professions code: 7028, 7027.1, 7153 ). 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.
Three suspects were also charged with trying to defraud by using an incorrect license number (Business & Professions code 7027.3) In addition four contractors who have licenses are under investigation for aiding and abetting the unlicensed suspects. (Business & professions code 7114) The Hillsborough Police Department found that one of the suspects was a registered sex offender driving without a valid driver's license.
By law, all contractors who perform work that totals $500 or more (labor and materials) must be licensed by the CSLB. "Unlicensed operators often have a lot of other legal problems," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Homeowners may think they are saving money by hiring someone who is unlicensed. But you never know what kind of individuals you are inviting into your home and what their real motives are."
The CSLB conducts sting operations on an almost weekly basis, is 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 308,000 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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