In 2017, the Tubbs Fire struck Napa, Sonoma, and Lake Counties and nearly 6,000 structures were destroyed, many of them homes. Santa Rosa communities are continuing to rebuild and although the Contractors State License Board’s (CSLB) attention has been focused on protecting disaster survivors from being victimized by unlicensed contractors, folks not directly affected by the wildfires should also stay on their guard when hiring someone for home improvement work.
On October 16th and 17th of this year, at a single-family home in Coffey Park, a property not directly affected by the wildfire, CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) partnering with the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office and the Marin County District Attorney’s Office, went undercover as homeowners and invited alleged unlicensed contractors to place bids on home improvement work.
A dozen unlicensed contractors showed-up and provided the undercover investigators with bids for jobs like landscaping, painting, paving, masonry and remodeling the bathroom. The lowest bid was for exterior painting of the home for $3,000, the highest was for $20,000 for landscaping.
In California, it is illegal for an unlicensed person to perform any contracting work on a project valued at $500 or more in combined labor and material costs. As a result, the suspects could now face a misdemeanor charge of contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code (BPC) §7028(b)). First-conviction penalties include up to six months in jail and/or up to $5,000 in fines. One suspect is facing second conviction penalties, which may result in 90 days in jail, and a fine of 20 percent of the contract price or $5,000, whichever is greater (BPC §7028(c)). One of the bidders asked for an excessive down payment before starting work and was also written-up for that alleged violation. It is illegal to ask for more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less (BPC §7159.5 (a)(3)(b)).
One suspect did not carry workers’ compensation (WC) insurance policies to cover those working for them (Labor Code section 3700.5). This resulted in a “stop order” (a legal demand to cease all employee labor at a job site). Eleven individuals could face an additional misdemeanor charge for their illegal advertisements. Licensed contractors must display their license number in all advertisements; unlicensed contractors must state in all ads that they do not have a license. (BPC §7027.1) The penalty for violating the advertising rules for unlicensed contractors is a fine of $700 to $1,000.
“Consumers should be sure to take some simple steps before hiring anyone to work in or around their home,” said CSLB Registrar David Fogt. “The fastest way is to make sure they have a state license, and to check the license status using CSLB’s Instant License Check. Homeowners should also use CSLB’s Find My Licensed Contractor feature to download and/or print a list of qualified licensed contractors in their area.”
All suspects were ordered to appear in court Dec. 10, 2019 at 8:30 a.m. at the Sonoma County Superior Court, Hall of Justice, 600 Administrative Drive, 105J, Santa Rosa, CA 95403.