CSLB, SWIFT Enforcement & Reporting Unlicensed Contractors

With tax revenues down and budget cuts across the board State government is
targeting the ‘underground’ economy as a top law enforcement priority. Contractors just want a level playing field whether the market is rising or falling…

According to CSLB Registrar Steve Sands, “unlicensed illegal activities that put homeowners at risk and puts those who follow state laws at a competitive disadvantage will not be tolerated”. Contractors can also do a lot to help.

CSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT), in conjunction with District Attorney’s offices, is effectively stopping a number of “bad actors”; however, it’s incumbent upon legitimate contractors to also help their own cause. Licensed contractors have several ‘weapons’ to combat their unlicensed counterparts.

First, when bidding on any project, leave the homeowner with some important information on what they should look for when hiring a contractor. For instance, the Board has several “consumer” pamphlets, including: “What Seniors Should Know Before Hiring a Contractor” and “Terms of Agreement: A Consumers Guide to Home Improvement Contracts”. These list a number of common sense ways that, if followed, will increase your chance of getting the job. Among the items on the Board’s check-lists are: ‘What is a Contract’; checking the license on the CSLB web site; asking to see the contractor’s pocket card; and requiring a copy of the contractor Worker’s Comp insurance certificate. You can be assured that unlicensed contractors will not have any of these.

Second, if you see or suspect there is an unlicensed contractor working in your area, report this to the CSLB SWIFT Unit. The best way of doing this is to complete and submit a SWIFT Lead Referral Form. This is used for filing a complaint against an unlicensed contractor who is ACTIVELY working on a construction project. The form is available on line or by phone from the CSLB. This form is also available on Capitol Services web site (www.cutredtape.com). It is important that you provide SWIFT with complete and detailed information about the current unlicensed activity and note if there are employees on the project — the more information and evidence, the better.

Third, remind your potential customer that if they hire an unlicensed contractor, and he or his employees are hurt, the property owner will likely be held financially responsible.

Just as they have done over and over again during the past several years, the CSLB has blitzed the State and stopped scores of unlicensed “contractors” in their tracks. The CSLB SWIFT team conducted two days of simultaneous sting operations in eight cities on October. Included were Burbank, Cameron Park, Madera, and Union City among others.

Swift investigators posed as homeowners seeking bids for home improvement projects including, painting, landscaping, tile work, tree trimming and cabinetry. In over 30 cases, investigators issued “ STOP” orders until they secured Worker’s Compensation to cover their employees. One was booked on an outstanding warrant and several parolees were apprehended. In all, 113 people were caught.

It has come to my attention that the CSLB has now lost approximately 21% of its staff in the past few years due to retirements and other factors and they are unable to replace most of them do to the Governor’s hiring freeze. Apparently official requests by the Board for a hiring exemption to backfill these positions have met with silence or an outright NO! As I have reported in prior columns, these 70+ vacancies (about ½ of which are in the Enforcement Unit) are preventing the Board from doing its job most effectively. This adversely impacts the legitimate licensed contractor and can cost you important contracts.

This is NOT saving the State any money since the CSLB is fully funded by contractor’s application and renewal fees. Write, email, fax or call the Governor’s Office and ask why the CSLB is not being allowed to fill these important positions.

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