Of 12 cited for illegal contracting in sting operation, eight contacted through popular websites
SACRAMENTO – For many consumers seeking construction or home repair services, online advertising services have become their go-to source to “hire the right pro,” as one popular website proclaims. However, they’ve also become a place where unlicensed contractors unqualified to perform construction services lurk, a recent Contractors State License Board (CSLB) sting operation in Napa showed. Of the 12 people cited on illegal contracting charges during the March 9-10 operation, eight were contacted through online advertising sites that exercise little to no control over unlicensed contractors.
Although California-licensed contractors do advertise on these online sites, CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson said consumers need to be aware that unlicensed operators post their ads or list themselves on consumer services websites, often right next to legitimate contractors. Most of these sites operate on a buyer beware principle, with no warnings posted about California contractor law requirements.
“It’s vital that consumers check CSLB’s website and make sure they’re considering a reputable contractor in order to avoid serious risks,” Christenson said. “In all advertising, including websites, licensed contractors are required to list their license number, and unlicensed contractors, by law, must declare that they are not licensed.”
The Napa sting took place at a single-family home near Alston Park. Investigators with CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) posed as the homeowners seeking bids on improvement projects such as laminate flooring, concrete work, fencing, painting, and landscaping. Napa County District Attorney’s Office investigators lent assistance.
Six persons who came to the house and turned in bids were cited for contracting without a state license (Business and Professions Code (BPC) section (§) 7028) on the sting’s first day. Six received misdemeanor citations for that offense on the operation’s second day, March 10.
Most of the bids for the work were far in excess of what’s legally allowable before a state contractor license is required. The limit is $500 for construction-related materials and/or labor. Most of those cited submitted quotes that were in the $3,000-$5,000 range, the highest for interior painting and a stretch of fencing.
An additional misdemeanor charge of illegal advertising (BPC §7027.1) was lodged against 10 of the 12 suspects. State law requires unlicensed contractors to state in all advertising that they are not licensed.
CSLB regularly stages sting operations throughout the state to crack down on unlicensed contracting, which feeds a multi-billion-dollar underground economy in California, endangers the public, and creates unfair business competition for licensed, law-abiding contractors.
CSLB urges all California consumers to follow these tips before hiring a home improvement contractor:
- Verify the contractor’s license online at cslb.ca.gov or www.CheckTheLicenseFirst.com, or via CSLB’s automated phone system at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752)
- Ask to see a photo identification to verify the contractor’s identity
- Don’t pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less
- Don’t pay in cash, or let the payments get ahead of the work
- Get at least three bids and insist on a written contract before your project begins
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 2014-15, CSLB helped recover nearly $68 million in ordered restitution for consumers.