published on September 27, 2016 - 12:45 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) conducted a series of simultaneous undercover sting operations and construction site sweeps over the past week across the state, resulting in the arrests of 73 suspected unlicensed contractors, including 11 in Fresno County and 12 in Tulare County.

Contractors State License Board joined partner law enforcement agencies in five counties to conduct its fall California Blitz on September 20-22.

The undercover operations took place at homes in Bloomington (San Bernardino County), El Cajon (San Diego County), Hayward (Alameda County), Reedley (Fresno County) and Visalia (Tulare County).

Investigators from CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) scoured online advertising sites, including Craigslist, Facebook, and Yelp, along with newspaper ads, and business cards to find persons suspected of performing illegal contracting work. The suspects were then asked to provide bids for home improvement jobs that included painting, drywall, landscaping, cabinetry, flooring, fencing, gates, masonry, tile, electrical, plumbing, driveway demolition, concrete, tree removal and building a new deck/gazebo.

If a suspect bid more than $500 for a job, they were arrested and may now face misdemeanor charges. State law requires a contractor license for construction or home repair work that totals $500 or more in materials and/or labor. During this operation bids ranged from $850 for a new fence and $11,000 for kitchen and bathroom cabinets and counters to $28,800 for landscaping.

“If a consumer hires someone who’s not licensed, they run a much bigger risk of being ripped off,” said CSLB Registrar Cindi Christenson. “When you hire a licensed contractor there are a lot of consumer protections in place, and we have many tools to help if there’s a problem.”

Seventy-two persons were given Notices to Appear in their respective superior courts for contracting without a license (Business and Professions Code section 7028). The penalty for a first conviction is up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

In addition, 67 were cited on a charge of illegal advertising (Business and Professions Code section 7027.1). State law requires contractors to place their license number in all print, broadcast, and online advertisements. Those without a license can advertise to perform jobs valued at less than $500, but the ad must state that they are not a licensed contractor. Violators can be fined $700 to $1,000. One person was cited for an illegal ad, but not for contracting without a license.

Fourteen others may be charged with requesting an illegally large down payment. State law (Business and Professions Code section 7159(a)(3)) states that a down payment cannot exceed $1,000 or 10% of the contract amount, whichever is less.

Three were also cited for not having workers’ compensation (WC) insurance (Labor Code §3700.5), which puts workers at risk of not being covered if they are hurt on the job and exposes homeowners to liability for on-site injuries.

Blitz totals may increase as some suspects are expected to provide their bids at a later date to undercover investigators via text, or email.

“We conduct undercover stings and construction site inspections around this state every week,” Christenson said, “so those who are not properly licensed, insured, or pulling permits should beware. We also urge consumers who plan on hiring someone for home repair or construction to check the license status of those they’re considering on Contractors State License Board website.”

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