The Contractors State License Board say that 79 unlicensed contractors were caught in an undercover operation it called “California Blitz.” The agency’s fraud unit posed as homeowners in seven locations throughout the state in during a two-day period, July 17 and 18.
One was in Elk Grove, near where results were announced. The CSLB says unlicensed contractors generate 97 percent of the 20,000 consumer complaints they get each year. Getting a license requires a criminal background check and passing tests to show knowledge of different trades and state law.
One of the biggest problems is overcharging for a down payment by unlicensed contractors.
“A down payment can be no more than 10% or a thousand dollars, which ever is less,” said agency spokesperson Rick Lopes.
Lopes said licensed contractors are bonded and must have worker’s compensation insurance to protect consumers in case of an accident. He also said the CSLB has an arbitration procedure in case of disputes – but you’re on your own with an unlicensed contractor who may do shoddy work, or who doesn’t do the work at all after taking money from the consumer.
The sting comes during a time when housing prices are going up and many homeowners are fixing houses to sell, or are investing in upgrades.
Licensed home remodeler Marty Morse says a license and worker’s comp costs may add 3% to 5% to his job estimate. But he says he’s done many jobs repairing unlicensed contractor’s work. He also says that violating the licensing requirement may be a symptom of other problems.
“If they are willing to do that are the willing to actually do construction projects where they are actually cutting corners, and not building to code, which can be dangerous,” said Morse.
There are other dangers. The sting netted several people who had drugs and drug paraphernalia, a man convicted of attempted murder, and a registered sex offender. They would not have passed the required criminal background check to get a license.
“Some scary people who you wouldn’t want in your home or possibly around your kids,” said Lopes.
While those caught up in the sting can get jail time and fines, the CSLB often works to help many them get licensed and comply with the law.