CSLB Urges Humboldt Area Residents to Only Hire State-Licensed Contractors for Earthquake Repairs
Before repairing damage from quake and aftershocks, check the license first!
SACRAMENTO —The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is reminding residents of Humboldt County and surrounding areas to only hire California-licensed contractors if they experienced any damage to their homes, outbuildings, or businesses following Saturday's 6.5 magnitude earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.
"It's an unfortunate fact that unlicensed and unscrupulous people show up after natural disasters," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "This is the time for property owners to be more vigilant about checking the license status of the people they plan to hire for repairs, and it only takes a few minutes to do this on our Web site or by calling our toll-free number."
By checking CSLB's Web site, www.cslb.ca.gov, property owners can find the licensing background of their contractor and have access to a host of tips and publications that explain consumer rights and best practices when hiring a contractor. This includes any post-earthquake work that may be necessary, from debris removal to hot water heater replacement to structural repairs.
CSLB licensees have a minimum of four years of journey-level experience in the trade for which they are licensed, and have passed tests related to their craft and California contracting law. CSLB licensees also have workers' compensation insurance for their employees (and themselves if they are C-39 roofing contractors) to ensure the homeowner is not financially liable in the event of a work-related injury on the property. In addition, licensees have bonds to protect consumers should something go wrong during the repair job. Since 2005, all new licensees and those adding to or changing their classifications also have been required to submit fingerprints for criminal background checks.
"After going through the fear and then the ordeal of property damage after these earthquakes, the last thing people need is to be victimized a second time by unscrupulous, unlicensed contractors," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "CSLB takes consumer complaints about unlicensed contracting very seriously, and we encourage people to contact us if they have experienced a problem."
A new California law that became effective January 1, 2010, has strengthened the penalties for contracting without a license. Anyone who contracts for more than $500 worth of work and materials without a license faces up to $5,000 in penalties and/or up to 90 days in county jail. Subsequent violations carry even stronger penalties. Additionally, an unlicensed person who contracts in a state-declared disaster area could face felony charges and state prison time.
Verify the status of a contractor's license on the CSLB Web site: www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling the toll-free automated line: 800-321-CSLB (2752). CSLB's free publications can be ordered or downloaded from the Web site, such as What You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor, with tips on hiring and working with home improvement contractors, and After a Disaster, Don't Get Scammed. CSLB's video Rebuilding After a Natural Disaster is also available for viewing at CSLB's Web site.
CSLB urges you to follow these guidelines before hiring a contractor:
- Don't hire the first contractor who comes along.
- Don't rush into repairs, no matter how badly they're needed.
- Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their license and a photo ID to ensure they are who they say they are. Always check the license number on CSLB's Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov, and contact the business directly if you have any questions.
- Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000, whichever is less, as a down payment. There is an exception for about two dozen licensees who carry special bonds to protect consumers. These exceptions are noted on CSLB's Web site.
- Don't pay in cash, and don't let payments get ahead of the work.
- Get at least three bids, check references, and get a written contract.
CSLB also reminds you to make sure your contractor obtains all the necessary permits and required inspections from your city or county building department for any construction, reconstruction, or installation of heaters or water heaters.
CSLB licenses about 310,000 contractors. In any given year, complaints are filed against only 3% of licensed contractors. In fiscal year 2008-09, CSLB helped consumers recover nearly $36 million in ordered restitution.
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