As property owners look to make repairs after a series of severe storms pounded northern California, the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is offering advice so they are not taken advantage of by unlicensed or unscrupulous contractors.
Flood victims should be aware of construction laws so they don’t become victims a second time. The first step is hiring a licensed contractor. It is against California law to contract for home improvement or construction jobs valued at $500 or more in combined labor and material costs without a state-issued contractor license. You can verify a contractor’s license by going to CSLB’s website or calling the toll-free line at 800-321-CSLB (2752). Penalties for first-time unlicensed contracting convictions include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines.
Contractors can utilize either a service and repair contract or a standard home improvement contract for flood repair work. Consumers should be aware of what is allowed under each.
Service and Repair Contract:
The consumer must be the one who contacts the contractor to request work on short notice, for a specific repair; the total price for labor and materials must be $750 or less; the contract must not include any goods or services beyond what is reasonable and necessary to repair the problem noted in the original contact by the consumer; no payments (including down payment) are required until the work is completed. The service and repair contractor may charge only one service fee. There is no three-day right to cancel the contract once it’s signed. No further work can be done without a standard home improvement contract.
Standard Home Improvement Contract:
The contract is not for urgent service and repair, and either the contractor or the consumer can initiate contact; the total price for labor and materials is $500 or more. (The work is not for an emergency replacement or repair of $750 or less.); the customer has until midnight of the third business day after signing the contract to cancel; the down payment can only be 10 percent of the total contract price or $1,000, whichever is less.
“Although it’s understandable that consumers want to make flood repairs quickly, it’s important not to rush the process and hire the first person who comes along,” said CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson. “Take your time and protect yourself against con artists who will take your money and run – or unskilled contractors who will perform shoddy work. Do your research and know your rights before you sign a contract.”
CSLB is also reminding contractors that they must hold a valid California contractor license, in the appropriate classification, in order to perform most work on homes and other structures damaged or destroyed by the recent California flooding and mudslides. This is especially important in the Sierra where contractors licensed in Nevada may cross the state line looking for work.
CSLB, operating under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, 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 almost $41 million in ordered restitution for consumers.