"Sick and Tired" Unlicensed Contractor Awakened by CSLB Sting
Web scammer one of 16 unlicensed contractors snared in Hanford undercover operationSACRAMENTO —A suspected unlicensed electrical contractor who posted "Tired of paying expensive fees for licensed contractors?" in an online advertisement received the shock of a notice to appear (NTA) in court for contracting without a license and illegal advertising. During an undercover sting operation in Hanford last week, CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) issued 15 other NTAs for contracting without a license. Eleven of those notices also included illegal advertising, and six included violations for soliciting an excessive down payment.
The undercover operation was held January 12 and 13, 2010, at two Hanford homes, with assistance from the Kings County District Attorney's Office (DA) and the California Department of Insurance. Investigators posed as homeowners who were seeking home improvements that included tree trimming, painting, concrete, electrical, landscaping, tile and floor improvements. SWIFT representatives found the suspected violators through online and local print ads and referrals from the Kings County DA. The 16 who received NTAs are scheduled to appear at 8:30 a.m. in the Kings County Superior Court at 1400 West Lacey Boulevard in Hanford on March 25, 2010.
"This sting should serve as a warning to consumers who might be taken in by promises of cheaper work performed by someone who isn't licensed," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "In reality, you might not pay more by hiring a state-licensed contractor; plus, you have the added assurance of knowing that your contractor meets trade standards, and is bonded and insured to protect property owners from liability."
Other highlights from the sting involved unlicensed tree trimmers. Two had employees but no workers' compensation insurance for them. California Labor Code requires workers' compensation insurance coverage for contractors with any employees besides themselves. Roofers (C-39) must also have workers' comp for themselves as an added assurance that homeowners are not financially responsible if a contractor is injured while working on their property.
Another unlicensed tree trimmer was believed to be a sex offender out of compliance with mandatory registration laws. That case was turned over to the DA. Since 2005, applicants for new licenses and those changing or adding classifications have also been required to submit fingerprints to CSLB for criminal background checks.
One person invited to the sting did not violate state law and declined to offer a bid, advising investigators to contact a licensed contractor because he could only do jobs valued at less than $500. California Business & Professions (B&P) Code requires that any job that costs more than $500 in labor and materials must be performed by a state-licensed contractor. Contractors must include their CSLB license number in all contracts and advertisements, and those who are not licensed and performing jobs valued at less than $500 must state that they are not a licensed contractor in their ads. B&P Code also prohibits solicitation of a down payment larger than $1,000 or 10 percent of the contract price, whichever is less. About two dozen contractors noted on CSLB's Web site www.cslb.ca.gov have exceptions to the down payment law, as they have purchased special bonds for consumer protection.
CSLB urges consumers to remember the following tips when hiring a contractor:
- Be especially hesitant when approached by someone offering home improvement services door-to-door.
- Verify the contractor's license by checking online at www.cslb.ca.gov, or via CSLB's automated phone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752), and ask to see a photo identification to make sure you're dealing with the correct person.
- 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 special bonds for consumer protection that are noted on the CSLB Web site.
- Don't pay in cash, and don't let the payments get ahead of the work.
- Check references, and get at least 3 bids and a written contract before your project begins.
- Contact CSLB if you have a complaint against a contractor.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. CSLB licenses and regulates about 310,000 contractors and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2008-09, CSLB helped recover nearly $36 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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