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What Are California Contractors?

There are approximately 300,000 licensed contractors in the State of California. The Contractors State License Board is the agency responsible for the licensing and regulation of these contractors, and over 40 classifications of licenses are issued in areas that include plumbing, painting, carpentry, electrical work, roofing, and other types of general construction trades. Any individual or business that provides home and property improvement services in California is referred to as a contractor. These individuals and businesses are mandatorily required to obtain a contractor’s license from the Contractors State License Board before they can work on any project that is valued at $500 and above. Note that contractors are not the only professionals that require licensing in the state. Several agencies provide mandatory occupational licensing for professionals in California, and these include the Medical Board of California, the California Architects Board, and the State Bar of California, which licenses and regulates medical doctors, architects, and attorneys respectively. There are over 168,000 attorneys in California, making it the state with the second-largest number of licensed attorneys in the country.

Tips for Hiring a Contractor
in California

Home and property improvement can be an expensive project to undertake, and so it is essential to make sure that you always hire qualified contractors. Listed below are some steps to take before you hire a contractor in California:

  • Have a clear idea of the project and what it entails
  • Determine the type of contractor that you need for the project
  • Request a copy of the contractor’s license and verify it through the Contractor State License Board’s license check portal or by calling (800) 321-2752
  • Get a minimum of three bids from different contractors and compare them
  • Request at least three references from these contractors. You can also carry out online research to get additional reviews
  • Make sure that the contractor you select has workers’ compensation insurance
  • Confirm that your contractor will obtain any necessary permits for the project
  • Ensure that all expectations for the project are in writing.
  • Never sign any contracts that you do not fully understand. It is a good idea to get an attorney to help you review these contracts
  • Do not pay more than 10% of the cost of the project or $1,000, whichever is less, as an initial fee. Also, avoid making cash payments or letting any payments get ahead of the work
  • Properly document any paperwork related to the job. This includes payment receipts, contracts, and warranties
  • Never make full payment until you are satisfied with the job done by the contractor

You can access a list of licensed contractors within your area online through the find my licensed contractor portal provided by the Contractors State License Board. This portal allows you to search for state-licensed contractors by city or zip code and license classification. Note that homeowners in the State of California have the right to cancel home improvement-related contracts within a period of three business days after signing these contracts.

How to Search A Contractor's License in California?

To avoid any civil and financial liability, homeowners are advised to verify their contractor’s license status before hiring. In California, any contractor who bids for a home improvement project of at least $500 in labor and materials must hold a current contractor's license from the California State License Board (CSLB).

To check a contractor’s license in the state, you can search the CSLB's Check A License webpage using the contractor’s name, business name or trade license number. The search result returns detailed information including the contractor’s city, contact address, license status, workers’ compensation insurance status, bonding information, and the type of construction work they are licensed to perform.

By California’s law, homeowners who hire unlicensed contractors are considered employers and are liable to be sued for injuries suffered by such contractors. Therefore, such homeowners must ensure the work environment is safe for the contractor in compliance with the California OSHA standards and safety regulations. An unlicensed contractor caught in California is charged for a misdemeanor with either a $5,000 fine or a 6-month jail time, or both.

How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
California?

The cost of hiring a contractor in California generally depends on factors like the type of project and the amount of labor required for executing this project. Contractors typically charge hourly rates at an average of $50 - $100 per hour. Depending on the contractor, this fee may be labor and materials inclusive, or just cover labor costs. Some common contractor hourly cost estimates for various types of contractors in the State of California include:

Drywall installation/repair contractors
$45 - $75
Electricians
$80 - $120
Flooring contractors
$50 - $75
HVAC contractors
$80 - $120
Painters
$45 - $80
Masonry contractors
$65 - $130
Siding installation/repair contractors
$55 - $90
Roofing contractors
$60 - $100
Plumbing contractors
$80 - $120
Landscaping contractors
$50 - $110
Carpenters
$40 - $80
Interior and exterior finishing contractors
$60 - $180
Concrete contractors
$40 - $70
Security installation contractors
$75 - $120
Maid services contractors
$60 - $110

In addition to home improvement work, you may also wish to retain the services of an attorney for various types of routine legal work that may or may not be related to your home improvement project. The average cost of hiring an attorney in the State of California is $200 - $300 per hour.

What Are Home Improvement
Scams in California?

When you hire a home improvement contractor in California, there is always the risk of the contractor being an unscrupulous individual that seeks to obtain money through deceptive methods. This may be by leaving the job unfinished after receiving complete payment, not doing the work at all and making off with the payment, or deliberately doing shoddy work that will require you to retain their services again soon. Situations like these are referred to as home improvement scams.

While it is not possible to completely eliminate the risk of a home improvement scam, you can reduce your chances of falling victim to one through several ways, first of which is ensuring that your contractor has been duly licensed by the California Contractors State License Board. Contractors in the state are generally required to obtain a state-issued license before handling any project that is worth more than $500. This license indicates that the contractor has the required skill set to provide a specified service.

In addition to licensing, you should also ensure that your contractor is insured and bonded because this protects you in the event of any unforeseen circumstances that may arise during your home improvement project like work-related injuries and contractor job defaults. Finally, you should consider having an attorney go through any contracts that you have to sign before you do so, especially if parts of these contracts seem unclear and confusing to you.

The California Contractors State License Board publishes and regularly updates a most-wanted list that contains details of contractors that are wanted in connection with home improvement scams. You can also report unlicensed contracting activity or file a contractor complaint directly with the state’s licensing board if you think that you or someone that you know has been a victim of a home improvement scam

Professional License Search

What are Common Home Improvement Scams in California?

Home improvement scammers in California utilize various methods to defraud their victims. In many cases, these home improvement scams are generally targeted at elderly residents of the state who are deemed as easy prey. Some of the most common tactics that these scammers use are:

  • Door-to-door solicitations: home improvement scammers typically go door to door offering to perform services like roofing, landscaping, solar panel installations, and painting, usually at highly discounted prices. However, once payment is made, these scammers abandon the project, leaving with little or no work done
  • Scare tactics: home improvement scammers generally employ scare tactics that are designed to make you overpay for their services. They usually do this by offering a free inspection of your home and either lying about or exaggerating a potentially dangerous problem like bad plumbing, leaky roofs, or faulty wiring.
  • High-pressure sales: home improvement scammers generally try to pressure you into deciding on the spot without giving you time to verify their contractor licenses, get estimates from similar contractors, review their references, or even enquire about necessary permits.
  • Oral agreements: Article 10 of the California Business and Professions Code states that home improvement contracts should be made in writing and should include the agreed-upon cost of the project. However, many home improvement scammers try to convince victims that these written contracts are not necessary and that an oral or verbal agreement will suffice. Unfortunately, these types of agreements are difficult to prove when these scammers perform shoddy jobs or fail to do the job at all
  • Cash payments and illegal down payments: home improvement scammers always insist on being paid with cash. Also, per Article 10 of the California Business and Professions Code, it is illegal for a home improvement contractor to request a down payment of more than 10% of the total value of a project or $1,000, whichever amount is less. However, home improvement scammers typically try to collect more than the stipulated down payment by claiming that the extra money is needed to pay workers or to get supplies for the project.

In April 2020, the Contractors State License Board warned Californians on the dangers of hiring door-to-door contractors after it arrested three individuals suspected of targeting senior residents of Sacramento Valley and the larger Northern California area in a home improvement paving scam. Similar arrests have also been made in home improvement scams involving requesting excessive down payments and illegally using a contractor license. According to the Contractors State License Board’s 2020 accomplishments and activities report, the agency was able to recover over $26 million in negotiated restitution for consumers in the state.

What are Disaster Scams in California?

California disaster scams are scams that target Californians whose homes and property have been damaged by a disaster. If your home or property has been recently damaged by an earthquake, fire, flood, or any other type of disaster, then you need to be wary about duplicitous individuals that may wish to take advantage of you during this trying period. Contractor-related California disaster scams typically include price gouging and unlicensed contracting. You can avoid falling victim to a disaster scam by doing the following:

  • Not rushing into repairs immediately after the disaster
  • Avoiding hiring the first contractor that comes your way after the disaster. Always get at least three bids from different contractors
  • Getting recommendations on home improvement contractors from friends and family
  • Being wary of home improvement repair offers from door to door contractors
  • Verifying the license of any home improvement contractor that you intend to hire
  • Insisting on a written contract that properly details every aspect of the repair project
  • Avoiding cash payments for any home improvement services
  • Holding off complete payment until the job has been properly completed per your local building department requirements and also your written contract

Note that performing contractor work in a declared disaster area without a state-issued contractor’s license is considered an offense in California and individuals found guilty of this can be punished by a fine of up to $10,000, jail time of up to three years, or both. Also, although contractors cannot legally request more than $1,000 or 10% of the cost of a home improvement project, they can ask for more if the project is classified as new construction. However, it is recommended that you stick to paying no more than 10% of the cost of the project or $1,000 as a down payment for any contractor-related project that you are involved in.

What are Common Legal
Work Scams in California?

Legal work scams are fraudulent attorney-related activities that are carried out with the express purpose of swindling unsuspecting individuals. These scams may be done by attorneys or by scammers pretending to be attorneys. The most common types of legal work scams in California are:

  • Living trust mills: this scam involves unscrupulous individuals posing as estate planning attorneys, financial advisers, selling unnecessary living trusts to unsuspecting victims, usually senior citizens. While living trusts can be a useful form of estate planning, they involve extensive legal, financial, and personal decisions, and require professional preparation and execution. Besides selling unnecessary living trusts, living trust mill scam artists also steal personal information from their victims and use this information to either sell them unnecessary investments or to commit identity-related scams. Note that in some instances, these scam artists may be actual attorneys or legal professionals like paralegals
  • Legal impersonation scams: there are several variants of this scam but they all generally involve scam artists contacting potential victims and using the names of reputable California attorneys or law firms. These scam artists typically set up fake websites that contain the correct information of the attorney or law firm that is being impersonated. However, the phone numbers and email addresses displayed in these dummy websites are spoofed so that any calls or messages sent to them are re-routed to the scam artist, making it difficult for their victims to identify them as scammers.

Some ways you can avoid falling victim to a California legal work scam are:

  • Be wary of unsolicited calls or messages that offer you money, prizes, and gifts or claim to have mouth-watering investment opportunities. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is
  • Insist on seeing identification and proof of licensing from any individual that claims to be an estate planning attorney. You can verify this individual’s licensing status by contacting the California State Bar
  • Be wary of any individual that tries to offer you a “one size fits all” living trust. Estate plans should always be specifically tailored to fit you and your financial situation
  • When you hire an attorney, always have a clear understanding of what this attorney is expected to do and an estimate of how much it should cost you
  • If you are a senior citizen, make sure that your attorney keeps you or your caregiver properly updated on your legal work. This should include providing copies of any documents that are filed in court
  • Be wary of attorneys that ask you to move all your funds or assets to a particular institution or advisor
  • Remember that paralegals and other types of legal assistants are not allowed to give legal advice
  • Do not allow yourself to be pressured or frightened. Always take your time to carefully consider and discuss any information that you are given with trusted friends and family before making any decisions. It is also a good idea to consult with a trusted attorney
  • Avoid making payments in cash
  • Remember that you have the right to cancel consumer transactions that take place in your home or outside appropriate trade premises within three business days
  • Report any suspected scam activities to the relevant authorities.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Contractor License in
California?

The processing time for completing the license application process and obtaining a contractor's license in California constantly changes because it is dependent on factors like the type of application submitted, examination schedules, and Contractors State License Board staff workload and vacancies. However, contractors can check the status of their license applications by querying the Contractors State License Board online or via phone number (800) 321-2752. Note that the state’s licensing board returns applications that it considers to be incomplete or insufficient. If this happens, then the contractor is required to make any necessary corrections and provide any missing information not later than 90 days after the application was returned.

Contractors that successfully meet all licensing requirements and are issued with a license typically receive a wall certificate and pocket license card five to ten business days later. This wall certificate should be displayed in the contractor’s primary place of business while the pocket license can be used as proof of licensing when soliciting business.

How to Maintain Your License in California

California contractor licenses are valid for two years and during this time, contractors are required to perform actions like maintaining their bonds and workers’ compensation insurance to avoid getting their licenses suspended. New bonds must be written by surety companies that have been licensed by the state’s Department of Insurance and they must be submitted not later than 90 days after their effective date at the California Contractors State License Board’s headquarters office located at:

  • 9821 Business Park Drive
  • Sacramento, CA 95827
  • Phone: (800) 321-2752

Workers' compensation insurance certificates can be submitted online or manually at the headquarters office of the state’s licensing board.

In addition to this, the California Contractors State License Board allows licensed contractors to perform actions like adding classifications to their license, changing business names and addresses or key personnel listed on the license, ordering replacement wall certificates and pocket licenses, and voluntarily canceling their license.

Finally, attorneys in California are required to self-report various changes in their status to the state’s bar association through either the attorney’s state bar profile portal or appropriate forms. The timeframe for making these reports generally depends on the specific change in status. For example, any change in contact information should be reported within 30 days.

How to Renew a Contractor License in
California

Newly issued California contractor licenses are valid for a period of two years. After these two years, they expire on the last day of the month that they were initially issued. When this happens, contractors are required to renew active licenses every two years, while inactive licenses are to be renewed every four years. The Contractors State License Board estimates that there are currently over 228,000 and 52,000 active and inactive contractor licenses respectively. Note that an inactive license can be reactivated anytime during this four-year period by contacting the Contractors State License Board.

The Contractors State License Board typically sends a renewal application to contractors 60 days before the expiration of their licenses. However, contractors that do not receive this application within 45 days of their license expiry date should contact the board at (800) 321-2752. The completed renewal application along with any applicable fees should then be sent via mail to the state licensing board’s headquarters office at:

  • Contractors State License Board
  • P.O. Box 26000
  • Sacramento, CA 95826-0026

If a renewal application is rejected, it is returned to the contractor along with a letter explaining any items that require correction. If this happens, the contractor has 90 days to resubmit an acceptable renewal application. Failure to do this before the license expires will result in the payment of a delinquent fee. Also, contractors that fail to renew their license more than five years after its expiry date will be required to reapply for an original license.

On the other hand, California attorneys renew their licenses through the payment of annual fees. These fees are typically reviewed every year and attorneys are notified by email when the fees for the upcoming year can be accessed, calculated, and paid. These actions can be performed through the California State Bar’s attorney profile portal. Payments can also be made by printing an invoice from the attorney profile portal and sending it along with a check for the appropriate fees via mail to:

  • The State Bar of California
  • P.O. Box 842142
  • Los Angeles, CA 90084-2142

In addition to annual fees, California attorneys are also mandatorily required to complete a total of 25 hours of minimum continuing legal education every three years.