SACRAMENTO – The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is reaching out to the thousands of residents in both northern and southern California who are survivors of this month’s devastating wildfires, to urge them to only hire California-licensed contractors to help with clean-up, repairs or rebuilding.
CSLB is also warning unlicensed contractors that if they’re caught trying to contract without a license in a declared disaster area, they could face felony charges. States of Emergency have been declared in Butte, Los Angeles and Ventura counties.
“The stories of survival we’ve heard this week have highlighted how disasters bring out the very best in many, with neighbors helping neighbors, and strangers helping strangers,” said CSLB Registrar David Fogt. “Unfortunately, we’ve learned that it’s likely to also bring out the worst in some, who may try to take advantage of vulnerable survivors. So now, more than ever, homeowners need to be careful about hiring reputable people to clean-up, repair or rebuild their property.”
A designated Disaster Help Center section on CSLB’s website, www.cslb.ca.gov or CheckTheLicenseFirst.com, provides helpful publications that can be downloaded or ordered. These include, “Debris Removal and Construction Scams,” “After a Disaster, Don’t Get Scammed” and “What You Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor.” CSLB’s “Rebuilding After a Natural Disaster” video and podcast also are available online. In addition, all information can be requested by calling CSLB’s Disaster Hotline, 800-962-1125, staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or via the automated assistance line, 800-321-CSLB (2752).
Fire survivors are also encouraged to use CSLB’s new “Find My Licensed Contractor” feature to build personalized lists of licensed contractors in their area. They should always check all contractor’s license numbers on the CSLB website and check the contractor’s pocket license and picture ID to make sure it’s the same person.
A CSLB-issued state license is required for any construction job of $500 or more (labor and/or materials).
Punishment for a felony charge of contracting without a license in a disaster area may include up to 16 months in state prison, and a fine of up to $10,000 (Business & Professions Code 7028.16). Misdemeanor charges also are possible. These carry up to $5,000 in penalties and/or up to 90 days in county jail. Subsequent convictions carry even stronger penalties, including a mandatory 90 days in jail.
“CSLB, along with state partners, including the Department of Insurance, local law enforcement and districts attorney will be aggressively looking for those trying to take advantage of fire survivors,” added Fogt. “Sweeps and undercover enforcement operations already are being planned in the fire-affected areas in both northern and southern California.”
CSLB urges everyone to follow these guidelines before hiring a contractor:
• Don’t rush into repairs or clean-up, no matter how badly they’re needed;
• Don’t hire the first contractor who comes along, or sign over any payment checks from your insurance company;
• Work with your local building department to make sure you understand the rebuilding process and take advantage of all services they can provide;
• Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their plastic CSLB pocket license and a photo ID;
• Get bids from at least three licensed contractors, and don’t necessarily take the lowest bid, especially if it’s much less than other bids;
• Get three references from each bidder, and view their previous work in-person;
• If contractor has employees, make sure they’re covered by workers’ compensation insurance;
• Get your contract in writing;
• For clean-up, repairs, or other home improvement projects, your down payment cannot be more than $1,000 or 10% of the contract price, whichever amount is less;
• Stick to the payment schedule, being sure not to let payments get ahead of work, and don’t pay for materials before they’re delivered to the job site.
• Make sure on-site materials and supplies are secure at the job site with a fence or other security;
• Get lien releases throughout the duration of your project, signed by both the contractor and subcontractor or material supplier, once work is completed or materials delivered and paid for. Free lien release and waiver forms are available on CSLB’s website (search: Lien Forms);
• Create a project file and keep copies of the contract, all signed payment orders, as well as lien releases and any photos you take during the project;
• Stay in constant touch with your contractor and maintain current telephone numbers and other contact information;
• Make sure the contractor pulls all necessary permits and that the required inspections from city or county building departments are conducted for any construction or reconstruction projects. Try to be present when building inspectors are on-site so you can hear first-hand if there are any problems or necessary corrections; and
• Don’t make the final payment until the project has written approval from the building department and you’re satisfied with the job.
The Contractors State License Board operates under the umbrella of the California 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 2017-18, CSLB helped recover over $50 million in ordered restitution for consumers.
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