CSLB Urges San Bruno Fire Victims to Beware of Post-Disaster Scams
Before repairing damage from natural gas explosion and fire, check the license first!
SACRAMENTO — The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is urging residents of last week’s explosion and fire in the Glenview neighborhood of San Bruno to only hire licensed contractors to rebuild or repair their damaged or destroyed homes.
"Unfortunately, unlicensed—and sometimes unscrupulous—people show up after disasters to try to take advantage of victims at a vulnerable time," said CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Now, more than ever, homeowners need to be cautious about hiring reputable people to repair their property. It only takes a few minutes to check the status of a contractor license on CSLB’s website or our toll-free telephone system."
Unlicensed contractors should also take notice. CSLB’s Enforcement division has partnered with the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office, as well as other local law enforcement and state agencies to assist and support Glenview residents. Warning signs have been posted and sweep operations will be conducted on a regular basis to ensure that only properly licensed contractors are at work in the area. Undercover enforcement operations are also being planned. Unlicensed individuals caught soliciting home improvement contracts in the disaster area could face felony charges.
"After the fear, devastation, and aftermath of the explosion and fire, the last thing people need is to be victimized a second time by unlicensed scammers," said Sands. "Unlicensed or unscrupulous contractors should know that we will be looking for them."
In addition to potential felony charges, a new California law has strengthened the misdemeanor penalties for contracting without a license. Anyone who contracts for more than $500 worth of work and materials without a state license faces up to $5,000 in penalties and/or up to 90 days in county jail. Subsequent violations carry even stiffer penalties.
By checking CSLB’s website, www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com, property owners can find the licensing background on their contractor, a list of their registered salespeople, and information about the contractor’s license bond and workers’ compensation coverage. There are also numerous tips and publications that explain consumer rights and best practices when hiring a contractor. This includes post-fire work ranging from debris removal to hot water heater replacement. CSLB staff is available Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. at CSLB’s special Disaster Hotline, 1-800-962-1125, except on state furlough days, which are the second, third, and fourth Fridays of each month.
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 are also required to have workers’ compensation insurance for 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 their property. Since 2005, all new licensees and those adding to or changing their classifications have also been required to submit fingerprints for criminal background checks.
Verify the status of a contractor’s license on the CSLB website: www.cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com or by calling the toll-free automated line: 800-321-CSLB (2752). Helpful publications in English and Spanish and other languages can be ordered or downloaded from the website.
CSLB urges all consumers 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 website 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 contractors who purchase special bonds for consumer protection, and are noted on CSLB’s website.
- 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 residents to consult with the City of San Bruno’s Community Development Department, to make sure their contractor gets all the necessary permits and required inspections for any construction, reconstruction, or installation of air conditioners, heaters, or water heaters.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. More information and publications about hiring contractors are available on the CSLB website or by calling 800-321-CSLB (2752). You can also sign up for CSLB e-mail alerts. CSLB licenses and regulates California's more than 300,000 contractors, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2009-10, CSLB helped recover nearly $42 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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