‘Anyone caught contracting without a state license in disaster area could face felony charges

SACRAMENTO – The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is reaching out to the dozens of residents affected the recent wildfires to urge them to only hire California-licensed contractors for either repairs or to rebuild their homes or businesses. CSLB is also warning unlicensed contractors that if they’re caught trying to contract without a license in the disaster area they could face felony charges.

There are nine counties under a state of emergency due to wildfires. These counties include: Orange, Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Solano, Sonoma, and Yuba.

“As we’ve seen this week, natural disasters bring out the very best in many, with neighbors helping neighbors, and strangers helping strangers,” said CSLB Registrar David Fogt. “Unfortunately, it’s likely to also bring out the worst in some, though who may try to take advantage of the situation and make these vulnerable home and business owners victims a second time. So now, more than ever, homeowners need to be cautious about hiring reputable people to 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 in English, Spanish and other languages that can be ordered or downloaded. These include, “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. In addition to the website, 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 its automated assistance line, 800-321-CSLB (2752).

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 local and state agency partners, including the Department of Insurance and Orange County District Attorney’s Office will be aggressive in looking for those trying to take advantage of fire victims,” added Fogt. “Sweeps and undercover enforcement operations already are being planned in the fire-affected areas.”

A CSLB-issued state license is required for any construction job of $500 or more (labor and materials).

CSLB urges everyone to follow these guidelines before hiring a contractor:

  • Don’t rush into repairs, 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;
  • Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see their plastic CSLB pocket license and a photo ID;
  • Always check the license number on CSLB’s website at www.cslb.ca.gov or CheckTheLicenseFirst.com, and contact the business directly if you have any questions;
  • Get bids from at least three licensed contractors, and don’t necessarily take the lowest bid, especially if it’s much lower than other bids;
  • Get three references from each bidder, and view their previous work in-person;
  • Get your contract in writing;
  • Be aware of California law when it comes to down payments:
  • For reconstruction classified as “home improvement,” state law prohibits a contractor from asking for a down payment of more than 10 percent of the contract price or $1,000 (whichever is less);
  • Contractors can ask for more than that amount for jobs classified as “new construction.” However, CSLB recommends that you ask your contractor to honor the same principles as home improvement projects located in the disaster zone;
  • 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.
  • 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;
  • 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;
  • 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 whether there are any problems or necessary corrections;
  • 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 2016-17, CSLB helped recover just over $47 million in ordered restitution for consumers.’