Contractors State License Board Cracks Down on Unlicensed Contractors Trying to Work in Tehama County
Undercover sting and sweep operations highlight risk of not checking the license first
SACRAMENTO — A dozen phony contractors were snagged in a Contractors State License Board (CSLB) sting and sweep held this week in Red Bluff. The two-day operation was conducted with the assistance of the California Department of Insurance (DOI).
During the undercover sting operation, held April 13, 2010, investigators from CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as homeowners, soliciting bids from contractors for painting, landscaping and concrete work. Targets were selected from advertisements online and in local publications and repeat offenders. 10 of 11 suspects arrested in the sting received a Notice to Appear (NTA) in court to face misdemeanor charges that include contracting without a license and illegal advertising. One of those suspects had his contractor's license revoked in 1995 while living in Southern California. He later relocated to Tehama County and was contracting illegally under a different company name.
In addition to the two misdemeanor charges, Richard Todd Bower, 46 of Red Bluff, was arrested and taken to jail on a felony charge of fraudulently using a contractor's license number (Business & Professions Code 7027.3). Bower had an advertisement in the local Yellow Pages under "Bower Painting," listing his father's license number, from a license that expired in 1986.
The misdemeanor charges carry a maximum of six months in jail and/or a fine up to $5,000 for the first offense. The felony charge carries a possible penalty of up to a $10,000 fine and/or up to one year behind bars.
California Business and Professions (B&P) Code requires all home improvement jobs valued at more than $500 for labor and materials be done by an individual or company with a CSLB licensee, and that license number must be included in all advertisements for their contracting services.
"Always check your contractor's license first to make sure it is current and valid," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Many homeowners don't realize the huge risk they take when they hire someone who is not properly licensed."
Unlicensed contractors never cover their employees with workers' compensation insurance. If one should be hurt on the job, the homeowner may be liable for injuries. Many also pay employees in cash, under the table, keeping important tax money out of state coffers.
"Cutting corners gives unlicensed contractors an unfair advantage against those who follow the law," added Sands. "It's not fair for law-abiding companies to go out of business because they aren't able to compete on a level playing field with those who break the law."
Two of the suspects who showed up to bid on projects at the sting house were of particular interest to DOI. That's because two suspects brought employees with them. These employees were not covered by workers' compensation insurance, which is a violation of California Labor Code Section 3700.5.
The 12th NTA was issued on April 14, 2010 when three sweep teams stopped at 18 different construction sites around the Red Bluff area, checking for CSLB licenses and making sure employees were covered by workers' compensation insurance. That suspect displayed a CSLB pocket license that was not his, which is a violation of B&P Code 119c. DOI issued two citations for no workers' compensation insurance.
CSLB urges consumers to remember the following tips when hiring a contractor:
- Verify the contractor's license by checking online at www.cslb.ca.gov, www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com or via CSLB's automated phone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
- Ask to see a photo identification to make sure you're dealing with same person who is on the license,
- If the person says they are an employee of the licensee, they must be registered with CSLB. Ask to see their Home Improvement Salesperson registration card.
- Check references, and get at least 3 bids and a written contract before your project begins.
- Don't pay more than 10% down or $1,000, whichever is less. There is an exception to this for about two dozen contractors who have a "Blanket Performance and Payment Bond" on file with CSLB. Learn more on the CSLB Web site.
- Don't pay in cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information about hiring contractors is available on the CSLB Web site or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). CSLB licenses and regulates California's almost 310,000 contractors, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2008-09, CSLB investigated more than 20,000 complaints and helped recover nearly $36 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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