Contractors State License Board Targets Unlicensed Operators Trying to Take Advantage of California Consumers
More than 90 caught in sting and sweep operations conducted around the state
SACRAMENTO– The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning California consumers to do their homework before hiring anyone for improvement projects in and around their home. The warning comes after CSLB conducted a series of simultaneous undercover sting operations and construction site sweeps over the past week across the state, resulting in the arrests of 73 suspected unlicensed contractors, and the opening of 20 administrative and potential legal cases.
CSLB joined partner law enforcement agencies in five counties to conduct its fall California Blitz on September 20-22, 2016.
The undercover operations took place at homes in Bloomington (San Bernardino County), El Cajon (San Diego County), Hayward (Alameda County), Reedley (Fresno County), and Visalia (Tulare County).
Investigators from CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) scoured online advertising sites, including Craigslist, Facebook, and Yelp, along with newspaper ads, and business cards to find persons suspected of performing illegal contracting work. The suspects were then asked to provide bids for home improvement jobs that included painting, drywall, landscaping, cabinetry, flooring, fencing, gates, masonry, tile, electrical, plumbing, driveway demolition, concrete, tree removal, and building a new deck/gazebo.
If a suspect bid more than $500 for a job, they were arrested and may now face misdemeanor charges. State law requires a contractor license for construction or home repair work that totals $500 or more in materials and/or labor. During this operation bids ranged from $850 for a new fence and $11,000 for kitchen and bathroom cabinets and counters to $28,800 for landscaping.
“If a consumer hires someone who’s not licensed, they run a much bigger risk of being ripped off,” said CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson. “When you hire a licensed contractor there are a lot of consumer protections in place, and we have many tools to help if there’s a problem.”
Seventy-two persons were given Notices to Appear in their respective superior courts for contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code section 7028). The penalty for a first conviction is up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
In addition, 67 were cited on a charge of illegal advertising (Business and Professions Code section 7027.1). State law requires contractors to place their license number in all print, broadcast, and online advertisements. Those without a license can advertise to perform jobs valued at less than $500, but the ad must state that they are not a licensed contractor. Violators can be fined $700 to $1,000. One person was cited for an illegal ad, but not for contracting without a license.
Fourteen others may be charged with requesting an illegally large down payment. State law (Business and Professions Code section 7159(a)(3)) states that a down payment cannot exceed $1,000 or 10% of the contract amount, whichever is less.
Three were also cited for not having workers’ compensation (WC) insurance (Labor Code §3700.5), which puts workers at risk of not being covered if they are hurt on the job and exposes homeowners to liability for on-site injuries.
Blitz totals may increase as some suspects are expected to provide their bids at a later date to undercover investigators via text, or email.
SWIFT investigators also conducted a sweep of construction sites in Alameda, Contra Costa, and Sacramento counties. These sweeps resulted in 20 legal cases, including the issuance of eight stop orders for companies not carrying workers’ compensation insurance; one possible case of premium insurance fraud, when only 3 of 5 workers on the project were covered by workers’ comp insurance; three jobs where building permits were not pulled; and two sites where unlicensed contractors were working.
“We conduct undercover stings and construction site inspections around this state every week,” Christenson warned, “so those who are not properly licensed, insured, or pulling permits should beware. We also urge consumers who plan on hiring someone for home repair or construction to check the license status of those they’re considering on CSLB’s website.”
STING NOTES (By Location)
Bloomington (San Bernardino County)
- 20 Notices to Appear Issued
- One suspect showed up 24 hours early for his appointment
- One suspect sent bid via text, then returned at end of day to get down payment
El Cajon (San Diego County)
- 16 Notices to Appear Issued
- Two suspects were in possession of meth pipes
- One of those two suspects also had active arrest warrant for drug-related charges, and had his contractor’s license revoked in 1996
Hayward (Alameda County)
- 14 Notices to Appear Issued
- Father and son both caught separately for contracting without a license; son recently applied to get license
Reedley (Fresno County)
- 11 Notices to Appear Issued
- Two suspects with arrest warrants taken to jail
- One suspect who was on parole for burglary requested photo of house, then used the photo to provide a $1,500 bid for exterior painting. Drove 90 minutes to get $600 down payment check
Visalia (Tulare County)
- 12 Notices to Appear Issued
- One suspect drove directly from CSLB Testing Center in Fresno to sting, right after passing both licensing exams. We’re pleased he’s getting a license, but he will have to take care of his new administrative citation as well.
NOTE: All suspects are presumed innocent until their case is resolved.
Partnering agencies are noted below.
|LOCATION||NOTICE TO APPEAR||PARTENER AGENCIES|
San Bernardino County
|- San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office
- California Highway Patrol
San Diego County
|- San Diego County District Attorney’s Office
- California Highway Patrol
|- Alameda County District Attorney’s Office|
|- Fresno County District Attorney’s Office
- California Highway Patrol
- Reedley Police Department
|- Tulare County District Attorney’s Office
- Visalia Police Department
The California Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs. CSLB licenses and regulates almost 290,000 contractors in California, and is regarded as one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States. In fiscal year 2015-16, CSLB helped recover nearly $51 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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