Contractors State License Board Poised to Go After Phony Contractors in Southern California Fire Zones
Unlicensed contractors could face felony charges if caught in declared disaster area
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is taking an aggressive stand against illegal contractors in the southern California fire zones. The CSLB is warning residents to beware of unscrupulous or unlicensed operators who will try to take advantage of their situation. The CSLB is also warning illegal operators that they face serious prison time if caught working or trying to get contracting work over $500 in a declared disaster area.
CSLB staff is working at disaster assistance centers and in the burned neighborhoods, offering help and advice to fire victims and coordinating enforcement efforts with other local, state and federal agencies. "We have learned from past experience that it helps to take a proactive approach in disaster zones," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "We do everything we can to help disaster victims while letting the illegal operators know they're being watched."
Homeowners are receiving information on how to 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 contractors who want to get 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. They must have the proper business license to work in the fire zone. Some out-of-state contractors and unlicensed operators may want to help with rebuilding. 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 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 areas.
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 improvement contract is required to have a 7-day "Right-To-Cancel" notification for repairs or restoration of residential structures in an area for which a state of emergency has been declared. It is also important to note that repairs cannot be broken up into smaller projects to avoid the $500 threshold for licensing.
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.
The CSLB has also activated its Disaster Hotline. The line is open for disaster victims to call Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 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 who 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 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
- Don't pay more than 10 percent 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 312,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2006-07, the CSLB obtained nearly $45 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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