SWIFT Justice, Underground Economy, Temporary Licenses & Unlicensed Advertising Rule

To keep consumers safe and squash unfair competition for contractors are two of the missions of the CSLB’s Enforcement Unit, better known as SWIFT.

These agents scour the State of California looking for unlicensed individuals ‘acting’ as contractors to keep the underground economy in check while leveling the playing field for legitimate licensed contractors. As you will discover, some of those ‘playing contractors’ in this drama are often also criminals…

Q:  I recently purchased a painting franchise and I applied for a contractor’s license but haven’t completed the application process yet.  What will happen if I contract without a license?  Is there some sort of temporary license I can be issued while the application is being reviewed?

A:  No, the CSLB does not issue temporary licenses.  As you may already be aware, it is illegal for an unlicensed contractor to contract for work over $500 for labor and materials.  The CSLB has an investigative team that frequently conducts stings and sweeps to apprehend unlicensed contractors and it can result in a misdemeanor, jail time, and fines.  Repeat offenders can face even harsher penalties.

Additionally, contractors performing work without a license have no legal right to enforce contracts, so consumers are not legally required to pay contractors operating illegally.

So-called ‘handy’ people are helpful, but when time and materials exceed $500 for the job a license is required to do the work. A recent CSLB sting in the Sacramento area discovered that among the suspects cited by SWIFT agents for unlicensed activity was a man convicted of rape. That conviction makes him ineligible for a license, but he was still contracting without a license and illegally advertising his services to consumers.

Another unlicensed individual who responded to the ‘sting’ requesting bids for work was wanted for failing to complete a sentence for DUI conviction. Ten were cited in this ‘round-up’ by SWIFT that located the suspects advertising online.

According to the Sacramento Bee, “All but one of the suspects also faces an additional misdemeanor charge of illegal advertising. 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 advertisement must state that they are not licensed contractors.”

The Contractors State License Board encourages consumers to check the license status before hiring a contractor by visiting the agency’s website at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling the toll-free automated line, (800) 321-2757. The board’s website also offers tips about how to hire a contractor and the opportunity to sign up for email alerts.