Contractors State License Board Warns Storm Victims to Watch Out For Rip-Off Schemes
Think before jumping into storm damage repairs
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning homeowners with damage from last week's storms to think about who they hire for repairs. The overwhelming urge, for many, is to try and get repairs done quickly. The CSLB has found that unscrupulous or unlicensed operators will try to take advantage of homeowners when they are most vulnerable.
Beware of unlicensed contractors who initiate contact either in person or with flyers, offering emergency repairs. Many times, these unlicensed contractors, will ask for cash up front or before completing the work. Some will just take the homeowners' money and do a shoddy job or no work at all. If something goes wrong, the homeowner is on their own to resolve problems that may occur.
"Avoid the urge to rush into repairs with the first contractor you meet, especially if they show up uninvited, at your front door," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Spend just a few minutes checking the contractor out with CSLB to make sure they're licensed. Protect yourself against those individuals who have no conscience about taking advantage of your situation."
Contractors working on any job - from tree removal to roof and fence repair - totaling $500 or more for labor and materials must be licensed by the CSLB They should carry their pocket size license and should be willing to show it along with another ID to prove who they are. Consumers can also protect themselves by using CSLB's resources to check a contractor's license status and history.
To become licensed, a contractor must pass a licensing examination, and verify at least four years of journey-level experience. California contractors must carry a license bond, and provide workers' compensation insurance for employees. A property owner's home insurance policy could be at risk if unlicensed laborers have an accident while performing home repairs.
Price estimates can vary widely even with licensed contractors. Make sure you get at least three bids using similar materials and project details. All of the details, including a work schedule, should be spelled out clearly in a written contract. The CSLB also recommends only hiring contractors who carry General Liability Insurance. Although not required by law, the insurance will protect the homeowner from any damage done to their property by the contractor. In addition, if the contractor has employees, homeowners should verify that the contractor carries workers' compensation insurance. That will protect them should any of the employees be injured while on their property.
Consumers can verify a contractor's license status through the CSLB's Website at www.cslb.ca.gov or the toll-free automated telephone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752). Find out if the contractors license is active and in the right classification for the work to be done. You 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. Tips and publications such as "What You Should Know Before You Hire a Contractor", are also available at the CSLB by phone or on the Web, free of charge.
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 315,000 contractors, and investigates more than 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2006-07, the CSLB helped consumers get almost $45 million restitution.
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