CSLB Offers Help so Lake Tahoe Fire Victims Don't Get Victimized a Second Time
Phony contractors could face felony charges for working in a disaster area.
Sacramento — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning Lake Tahoe fire victims to be careful when hiring a contractor to repair or rebuild their homes and property. The CSLB cautions residents to beware of unscrupulous or unlicensed operators who will try to take advantage of the situation. CSLB will be aggressive in going after phony contractors working in the disaster area.
CSLB staff has been in the fire zone since Tuesday, offering help and advice to victims and meeting to coordinate enforcement efforts with local agencies. "Our first concern is for the fire victims," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "We will do everything we can to help ensure they don't become victims a second time."
Homeowners are getting Information on how they can protect themselves by using CSLB's resources to check a contractor's license status and history, and by following a series of important tips. "Avoid the urge to rush into repairs with the first contractor you meet, especially if they just show up without an invitation," said Sands. "Spend just a few minutes checking the contractor out with CSLB to make sure they're licensed."
The CSLB is also reminding those who want to get contracting work in the disaster area that they must hold a valid California contractors license, in the appropriate classification, in order to perform most work on homes and other structures damaged or destroyed by the wildfires. Some out-of-state contractors and unlicensed operators may want to help with rebuilding in the disaster areas. However, it is illegal and punishable as a felony to perform contracting work in a state or federally declared disaster area without a valid California contractor's license. Punishment may include a fine of up to $10,000 and/or up to 16 months in state prison. In the days and weeks ahead, CSLB will partner with local, state and other government agencies to conduct enforcement stings and sweeps in and around the disaster area.
Contractors working on any job - from debris removal to roof repair to rebuilding - totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by the CSLB. To become licensed, a contractor must pass a licensing examination, verify at least four years of journey-level experience and pass a criminal background check. California contractors must carry a license bond, and provide workers' compensation insurance for their employees. A homeowner could be at risk if workers who aren't covered have an accident while on their property.
Homeowners should look closely at any paperwork or contracts they are handed. A standard home repair contract is required to have a 3-day "Right-To-Cancel" notification. However, there is a provision called a Service and Repair contract that waives the consumer's right to cancel the moment they sign the paperwork and the job gets underway. Consumers should give themselves time to make the right choice.
Consumers can verify a contractor's license status through the CSLB's Website at www.cslb.ca.gov or through its toll-free automated telephone system at 1-800-321-CSLB(2752). Find out if the contractor's license is active and in the right classification for the work to be done. Consumers can also see if there are any legal complaints against the contractor, if the business name and address are correct, and if there is workers' compensation insurance coverage for employees. Consumers can download tips and publications on topics like disaster scams, hiring a contractor and home improvement contracts from the CSLB Website. They can also report unlicensed activity.
The CSLB has also activated its Disaster Hotline. The line is open for disaster victims to call Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm at 1-800-962-1125.
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 hire the first contractor that comes along
- Don't rush into repairs, no matter how badly they're needed
- Verify the contractor's license at www.cslb.ca.gov or call 1-800-321-CSLB(2752)
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment
- Don't pay cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work
- Get three bids, check references, and get 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 310,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2005-06, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million in restitution.
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