Contractors State License Board Catches One Hundred in Statewide Series of Unlicensed Contractor Stings and Sweeps
California operation part of national effort to warn consumers about risks of hiring unlicensed contractors
SACRAMENTO - One hundred suspected unlicensed contractors may face criminal charges after the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) conducted six undercover stings and 14 sweeps of active construction sites around California over a two-week period. The operation also led to the issuance of seven administrative citations and 31 Stop Orders.
The operation, which took place between June 7 and June 22, 2017, in 11 different counties, was part of a nationwide enforcement effort coordinated by the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (NASCLA).
The operations were undertaken to heighten consumer awareness about the value of hiring licensed contractors and the risks of using those who are not licensed.
"Nationwide enforcement operations like this are critical to educating consumers about the risks they take if they hire someone who's not licensed to work in and around their home and family," said David Fogt, Registrar of California's Contractors State License Board. "It also helps keep the playing field level for the almost 285,000 licensed contractors here in California by working to limit unfair competition."
In the California stings, investigators from CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnered with several local law enforcement agencies to conduct operations at homes in Bakersfield (Kern County), Long Beach (Los Angeles County), Monterey (Monterey County), Orange (Orange County), Santee (San Diego County), and Shasta Lake (Shasta County). Sweep operations were conducted at active construction sites in Los Angeles, Orange, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Shasta, and Sonoma Counties.
At the stings, SWIFT investigators called suspected unlicensed operators for home improvement bids that included electrical, plumbing, painting, landscaping, flooring, door installation, fencing, masonry, tile, roofing, concrete, and tree trimming or removal.
Suspects were targeted in a number of ways, including postings on online sites including craigslist.org.
Of the 100 individuals who received a "Notice to Appear" in court, 96 may face a misdemeanor criminal charge of contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code (BPC) section 7028). The penalty for a first conviction is up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
Eighty-three of the suspects also may be charged with a misdemeanor count of illegal advertising (BPC §7027.1). California law requires licensed contractors to place their CSLB 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. The penalty is a fine of $700 to $1,000.
Seven others may be charged with requesting an excessive down payment (BPC §7159.5). In California, a home improvement project down payment cannot exceed 10 percent of the contract total or $1,000, whichever is less. This misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or up to a $5,000 fine.
Fourteen individuals did not have workers' compensation insurance for their workers (Labor Code §3700.5).
Thirty-one of the phony contractors also were issued Stop Orders (BPC §7127). CSLB investigators can halt jobsite activity when any person, with or without a contractor license, does not have workers' compensation insurance coverage for employees. Failure to comply with a Stop Order can result in misdemeanor charges and penalties, including 60 days in jail and/or up to $10,000 in fines.
"Many homeowners think they'll get a better deal if they hire an unlicensed contractor," added Registrar Fogt. "Unfortunately, most end up with a poor quality job or dealing with an unlicensed contractor who abandons the job after being paid up-front. Often, consumers end up paying twice when they have to hire a licensed contractor to tear out the job and do it again the right way."
CSLB encourages consumers to always "Check the License First" by visiting www.cslb.ca.gov or calling CSLB's toll-free automated line 800.321.CSLB (2752). Also, visit CSLB's website for tips about how to hire a contractor.
CSLB operates under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs by licensing and regulating California's almost 285,000 contractors. In fiscal year 2015-16, CSLB helped recover about $41 million in ordered restitution for consumers, making it one of the leading consumer protection agencies in the United States.
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