Contractors and Consumer Complaints & RMO’s

We often focus on issues contractors face in keeping or obtaining their licenses. However, we also hear from consumers, some with issues that go beyond our ability to answer or provide advice. While we often work for attorneys I am not a legal advisor. Answering the questions about contractor’s licensing is why this column exists and provides expert assistance to anyone who asks…

Q:  I hired a contractor to do remodeling on my home.  While things started out fine, they quickly deteriorated.  When all was said and done, I had a mess on my hands to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars in damages.  The contractor will not answer my calls or emails so I contacted an attorney I know  he said I might end up spending over $100,000 to get the contractor into court – and still might lose the case.  This attorney told me not to bother contacting the Contractors Board because “they won’t help you resolve this problem”.   It appears you deal mostly with contractors but I came across your column on line and hope you can answer my questions:  1) Do you think I should use an attorney to fight this contractor? 2) Do you think I should contact the CSLB? 3) What is the process I’ll need to go through if I use the Contractors Board?  4) Do you believe they’ll be able to help me?   Thank you for your time.

A:  You’re correct, in that many of my readers are contractors; however, I do receive some questions from other professionals as well as homeowners like yourself.  In response to question #1, I cannot give you legal advice nor tell you whether to use this attorney (or any attorney) since I’m unfamiliar with the facts of this case.  However, anyone likely would recommend thinking twice about spending over $100,000 to hopefully get back this amount or more in damages.

I imagine your goal is to have these problems fixed by another contractor without having to pay additional money to the new contractor — or an attorney.  Whether you decide to use an attorney or not, my answer to question #2 is YES.  You should file a formal complaint with the CSLB against the contractor.  They will likely first attempt to mediate the problem and see if the contractor will fix these issues at your home.  If this is unsuccessful, the Board has the capacity to further investigate and determine if there are damages as you describe and what it would cost another contractor to make these repairs.

In answer to your #3 question, I would recommend visiting ‘cslb.ca.gov’ and click on the “Consumer” section.  Then click on “Filing a Construction Complaint”.  This section has an overview about how CSLB addresses complaints and the procedures that are followed.  I cannot tell you if they’ll be able to help you; There is no cost to you as a homeowner for filing a complaint with the Contractors Board.

Q:  I bought a painting business two years ago and the previous owner stayed on the license as a Responsible Managing Officer (RMO).  I have been running the business for two years and I also have a B.A. and Masters degree in Business.  Would I qualify for a Waiver of the exams based on my experience and education?

A: While it sounds like you have the requisite amount of experience and education to qualify to replace the previous owner as the RMO, you will still be required to take the law and trade exams.  Get back in touch if we can assist you.

 

General Subcontracting, Adding a Family Member & Work Experience for CA Applications

‘Handing down’ an opportunity to work is one of the ‘general’ reasons to have a “B” contractor’s license. A father hopes to ‘hand-over’ his license to a son, but finds he’ll need an expert solution to make it happen while our last Q/A offers a ‘hand’ in documenting work experience…

Q:  We have a client with a General building license.  The company was hired by another “B” contractor to be their sub on a commercial project. They were hired to complete 4 different classifications, including plumbing and roofing.  In turn, my client wants to subcontract at least one trade to a licensed specialty contractor.  In reading Section 7057, I see where this appears to be okay for my client, but I would like your opinion on whether they’re in compliance if, for instance, they only sub out the painting trade?

A:  Your General (“B”) building client meets the criteria for taking this subcontract in that it “requires at least two unrelated trades or crafts other than framing or carpentry”.  While Section 7057 does not specifically address the creation of a “second-tier” sub, it would be proper to issue a subcontract for this one trade as long as the subcontractor holds a valid “C-33” contractors license.  As a “B”, your client can either self-perform all the trades; subcontract all the trades; or provide a combination of the two.

Q: I want to add my son to my General contractor’s license so he can gain the experience to eventually get his own license. What is the best way to accomplish this?

A: As we discussed, since you currently have a Sole Owner license, your son can only be added to your license if he Qualifies a classification OTHER THAN “B”, which you hold. The CSLB does not allow two people to simultaneously Qualify the same classification on the same license. However, there is a way to a better answer.

While your son has done some limited work in the construction trades, it does not appear he is currently qualified to hold a California contractor’s license.  Therefore, your option is to form a corporation, LLC or Partnership listing your son as an Officer, Member or Partner.  Once he has four years of journeyman or supervisory level work experience in the trades, he’ll have the opportunity to qualify for his own license or replace you as the Qualifying individual.

Q:  I was hoping that you can help me with my Certification of Work Experience page.  Where it requires me to list my specific trade duties I plan to write “estimate, pull permits, work with building inspectors, planning officials, and fire inspectors in most of the Bay Area counties, supervise sub-contractors on site.”  Will that be sufficient?

A:  No, the CSLB wants to see specific trade duties relating to the classification you are applying for.  For example, the “B” General Building classification requires that you have at least four years of experience doing Framing and two unrelated trades (such as Cabinetry and Plumbing).  They don’t need to know about the duties you mentioned since they aren’t trade specific.  Let me know if you’d like me to review your re-write which is recommended here. Helping contractor’s make quick, successful applications is one of the things we do most often.

 

Work Experience, Signatures Required and Discussion of “C-1” Licensing

An aspiring contractor needs a ‘sign’ his experience will count and keep his license application secret, while another learns an unfortunate lesson on scheduling when you have more than one Qualifier. A Board proposal ‘building’ momentum may be of great interest to Generals and others…

Q:  I’ve worked for a construction company for over five years and I’m considering getting my own license.  How many references/certifiers do I need to have sign off on my work experience?  I don’t really want to inform my employer or supervisor that I’m getting my own license so who do you recommend I have sign my experience page?

 

A:  You only need to have one certifier sign your work experience page if you’ve worked for the same company for a four-year period.  You are only required to have more than one certifier if you are verifying experience gained from two or more separate employers.

 

While it is best to have your employer sign your work experience page, you can also use a fellow employee or a sub-contractor or really anyone who has first hand knowledge of your work experience.  Be sure to include a note on the application that you do not want the CSLB to contact your employer.

 

Q:  We have two Qualifiers on our license, one is a Responsible Managing Officer (RMO) and qualifies our “A” (Engineering) classification, and the other is a Responsible Managing Employee (RME), who qualifies our “B” (Building) license.  We sent in our renewal with our RMO’s signature on it and the CSLB rejected it because the RME didn’t sign as well.  Our license has since expired on the 31st.  Our RME is currently on vacation and not available to sign for another two weeks.  Is there a way to contact someone in the Renewal Unit and have them process the “A” renewal so that we can continue that part of our work?

A:  There is no way for the CSLB to process a renewal until all qualifying individuals listed on the license have signed the form.
We are frequently asked if there is a ‘handyman’ license.  We also get calls from contractors all the time who want a General Building (“B”) Contractor’s License to do remodel and repair work, but they’ve never done ground up construction.  Over the years we have had to tell them that in order to qualify for a “B” license they must be able to document at least four years of journeyman level experience performing framing and two unrelated trades.  This framing requirement disqualifies many contractors who have experience doing much of the General Building trades, but don’t actually build structures.

At a recent Board meeting, the CSLB discussed a staff recommendation to adopt a new   “C-1” Classification for Non-Structural Remodel/Repair Contractors.  The proposed classification is described as “A non-structural remodeling and repair contractor remodels and repairs existing structures of three (3) stories or less, built for support, shelter and enclosure of persons, animals, chattels or movable property of any kind; provided that no load bearing portion of the existing structure is altered, added or moved; this includes footings, foundations, and weight bearing members.  This classification excludes “C-16” (Fire Protection) and “C-57” (Well Drilling) alterations and repairs.”

If this is added it will open doors for many who were otherwise excluded from licensure.  In addition, since there is a demand for remodel/repair contractors, many contractors are currently illegally performing this work, so adopting this classification will likely decrease the underground economy that currently exists.

You can be sure we will keep you posted on the progress of this proposal.

CA Worker’s Comp & DBA’s and NV Applications & Expirations

As a ‘general’ rule for contractors in Nevada there is a way to skip some of the test taking in CA. Other contractors learn rules are not made to be broken, and waiting to the ‘last’ minute can ‘qualify’ you for license suspension…

Q:  We recently applied for a Contractor’s License and the CSLB did not approve our business name and required that we add a ‘dba’ (doing business as) name, which we did.  We already have a Worker’s Comp policy issued in our original business name.  Do we now need to have a new Certificate issued and if so, would it be proper to have the new Certificate issued in the ‘dba’ name since that’s how we will be conducting business in California?

A:  The Worker’s Comp Certificate should list the entire business name, including the ‘dba’ as the insured.  Also be sure that the Certificate lists the CSLB as the Certificate Holder.

Q:  My company currently has an “A” (General Engineering) license in Nevada.  We need to get licensed in California and I understand that some of the classifications are different with regards to what they cover.  We do refractory maintenance, installation and repair in the petrochemical area, as well as fireproofing.  Can you tell me what classification we should apply for and whether I can waive the exams based on reciprocity?

A:  The most appropriate classification for that type of work would also be an “A” (General Engineering) here in California.  If you have been actively licensed in good standing for the previous five years you can submit verification of your Nevada license and request to Waive the trade exam, however you are still required to take the Law exam.

Q:  The Responsible Managing Employee (RME) on our license resigned a couple months ago and just recently informed the CSLB.  Now our license has a notation stating that if we do not replace him by 11/10 our license will be Suspended.  We have a new person designated to fill this spot but he is still working on getting his experience pages verified.  Will our license remain Active as long as we have the new replacement application submitted before 11/10?  If not, is there any way to expedite the new application or get some sort of extension?

A:  Even if you submit your replacement application before your 11/10

Suspension date (without an extension request), your license will still show the current status as Suspended.  You can however, request a 90-day extension request if you have an application in process to replace your RME.  These extension requests are generally granted, however we recommend that you submit it as soon as possible because the closer you get to your suspension date, the likelier it is that the Board will not approve it.  They are usually generous with these requests, but they have their workload too so it’s best not to come in at the ‘last’ minute!

Q: Our company has had a Nevada license for over 25 years.  We have been focused on work in CA for the past 5 years and let our Nevada license lapse.  How do we go about reinstating it?

A:  I’m sorry to say, I looked up your company’s license and it expired over 6 months ago.  Unfortunately, once your Nevada license has been expired for more than 6 months you need to apply for a new license.  Contact us if you would like assistance with the process!

Buying A Contracting Business, “C-13” General Building and Waivers

‘Caveat emptor’, or buyer beware often requires expert advice when weighing the ‘pro’ or ‘con’ for making a major investment. In other words, looking before you leap is always recommended, so we help an aspiring contractor ‘buy in’ to the business.  That same experience in how rules have been interpreted over the decades we’ve assisted contractors won’t satisfy our last inquiry, but it’s our best advice based on ‘expertise’…

Q:  I’m in the process of purchasing a Contracting business.  I’m going to use the same company name but will be forming a new corporation and applying for a new license.  I have a Business degree and many years of experience in the construction industry but it’s been upper level management and I’ve never swung a hammer or supervised laborers out in the field. So I’m worried that I will not qualify to be a Responsible Managing Officer (RMO) on the new license.  The RMO for the company I’m purchasing has agreed to Qualify the new license.  How long do I need to keep him on the license before I can Qualify to replace him?

 

A:  As you may know, in order to be an RMO or an RME you are required to show at least four years of full time work experience in the trade you are applying for, with one of those years being practical experience.  Your Business degree will give you some credit towards those four years, but how much will depend on what classes you took.  You also need to take and pass the law and trade exams.  However, once you have been listed as an Officer on a license for over five years, you can apply to replace your Qualifier and request a Waiver of the exams.  Therefore, how long you keep your Qualifier before replacing him will depend on whether you want to wait for an opportunity to Waive the exams.  Good luck in your new venture!

Q:  I have been reading your articles from the Builder Exchange’s bulletin and they are really helpful. I am a Sole Proprietor and have a “B” (General Building) and “C-8” (Concrete) license in California. Recently, I read an article about obtaining a Waiver when applying for additional classifications. I have been in the construction business for over 54 years. I do public works mostly school projects. I have done fence and concrete works, however, I don’t have a Fencing license. How can I obtain a “C-13” (Fencing) license without taking an exam?

A:  You are correct that under B&P code section 7065.3 the CSLB will allow for a Waiver of certain additional classifications if you can show that the classification you are adding is a significant component, and closely related, to the work you have done over the years. But in our experience at Capitol Services over the years, I believe CSLB is likely to determine that the “C-13” is not a significant portion of work you’ve done with your current licensing.  For instance, with your “B” and “C-8” classifications you can build a structure from the ground up, and you mentioned school projects, which means you can build the entire structure from ground-up including framing, drywall, roofing, painting, etc. (“B” work) as well as all foundations, concrete floors, footings, walkways, curbs (“C-8“work).  The fence around the structure, in my opinion, would be a small portion of the project that would likely not warrant a Waiver of this exam.

 

$500 Requirements, High/ Low Voltage Licensing and General’s Scope of Work

Cutredtape.com brought us a follow-up inquiry for a contractor that hopes to make ‘his slice’ the whole pie! Another electrical contractor hopes his specialty is ‘wired in’ to reciprocity as a CA licensee…

Q: In a newsletter I located on-line you indicated that: ”It has been determined by the CSLB that all “C-7” work is covered by the “C-10” classification.”  Can you tell me where that determination can be found?  Thank you in advance.

A:  The CSLB’s description of the two classifications reflects the fact that

Low voltage (“C-7”) work is included in the Electrical (“C-10”) classification.  A Low voltage contractor can install, service, and maintain all types of communication and low voltage systems which are energy limited and do not exceed 92 volts.  A “C-10” contractor can install, service, maintain any electrical wires, fixtures, etc. which generate, transmit, transform or utilize electrical energy in any form or for any purpose.

 

Q:  Is there any type of contracting work, such as electrical, where even if it’s under $500 in which the work must be done by a licensed contractor?

A:  The CSLB does not require a license for any construction work under $500.

Q:  I was just curious if you could tell me what states we get automatic reciprocity in for having a valid Low voltage license in California?

A:  While we specialize in licensing in CA, NV, and AZ, I am not aware of any State that has a formal reciprocal agreement with California for the Low voltage electrical classification.  Arizona just recently did away with “reciprocity”, however you may be eligible for a Waiver of the Low Voltage Trade exam if you meet certain requirements.  You are required to show that you passed the equivalent exam in California when you originally obtained your license and your Contractor’s license must have been active and in good standing within the preceding five years.  Arizona Registrar of Contractors still requires that you take the Business/Management exam and show your experience when you apply for the license.  Contact us if you’d like assistance with this.

 

Q:  Can a General Building (“B”) contractor advertise/promote themselves for specialty work, such as Plumbing?  I read in the CSLB’s advertising guidelines “Licensed contractors are not allowed to advertise for construction work outside of the areas for which they are licensed”.  Technically “B” (General Building) contractors can do plumbing projects so it’s not outside the area for which we are licensed, correct?

A: Actually, no.  “B” contractors should not advertise or promote themselves for single specialty trades.  General Building Contractors cannot perform any project involving trades other than framing or carpentry unless the job requires at least two unrelated building trades.  Advertising for specialty work such as plumbing, as you suggested, implies that the “B” contractor can take a contract for just plumbing, which they cannot. However, there is another way.

As long as the contractor in question can show at least four years of full time work experience doing plumbing work, I would suggest that he/she add the “C-36” (Plumbing) classification to the General license.  Then they are free to advertise and promote themselves as a plumbing contractor.

AZ Qualifiers, $500 Exemptions, Grout & Tile

Is there an exception to every rule? For some contractors it depends on the ‘conditions’. Another contractor who wants to be ready for ‘prime’ time needs to see the ‘bigger’ picture in getting those jobs done. We also pump up the volume in answering a question with a ‘twist’ on grout…

Q:  Regarding our Arizona Contractor’s license, in Section 32-1125 of the AZ Registrar of Contractors (ROC) statutes, it seems to indicate that we could file for an exemption from a qualifying party if certain parameters are met.  Can you check if we qualify?  If we don’t qualify, how long do we have after our previous Qualifier resigned to complete the replacement process before our license will be affected?

A:  Arizona ROC does allow you to apply for an Exemption from the Qualifying party if the following conditions exist:  1.  The license has to have been in effect for the last five years, 2.  There has not been a transfer of 50% or more of the licensee’s ownership, and 3.  The license does not have more than five valid, unresolved complaints filed.  After looking at your license it appears that you would qualify for this exemption.  For future reference though, Arizona gives you sixty days to replace the Qualifying party before the license will go Suspended.

 

Q:  We just recently started doing contracting work in California (we obtained our license a couple months ago) so we are new to the licensing rules and regulations.  We are a residential home improvement prime contractor and we sign contracts directly with homeowners but then sub-contract our work to specialty contractors.  I read that under B&P Code Section 7048 that work under $500 (inclusive of materials) may be done by an unlicensed contractor.  I also understand that exemption does not apply if the project is part of bigger project.  So if we sign a contract to do various home improvements for well over $500, can we hire an unlicensed plumber to unclog a drain and an another unlicensed technician do HVAC repairs so long as, in both cases, the total cost of the work does not exceed $500?  Or would that be considered part of a bigger project?

A:  As a prime contractor you can sub-contract specialty work to unlicensed contractors as long as their individual contract/project does not exceed $500.  The “part of a bigger project” applies when for instance, a contractor tries to skirt around the $500 exemption by agreeing to do several home improvements for a customer, such as plumbing and HVAC, and then splitting them in to two separate contracts/jobs so that each does not exceed $500.  That scenario is not permitted.

Q:  Is licensure required for grout and tile cleaning?

A:  A license is not required for grout and tile cleaning.  We frequently are asked if carpet/floor cleaning requires a contractor’s license to which the answer is also no.  The general rule (although there are some exceptions) is a license is required only if you are installing something. The key here is cleaning!