In 2010, unlicensed contractors are in store for tougher penalties. Starting Jan. 1, those caught contracting in California without a license for the first time will face six months in jail or a fine of up to $5,000 because of a new law that will take affect. Right now the offense is only considered a misdemeanor with no set jail time or penalties.
Second-timers must pay 20 percent of the contract price, or $5,000, whichever is greater and spend at least 90 days in county jail.
A third offense would be punishable with 90 days to one year in a county jail and a fine between $5,000 and $10,000, or 20 percent of the contract price, according to the law, Assembly Bill 370.
Anyone who uses an unlicensed contractor is a victim and is entitled to a refund, regardless of whether they knew the contractor was unlicensed, according to state law.
In October, the Contractors State License Board, which operates under the Department of Consumer Affairs, conducted a sting operation in San Clemente and caught 15 illegal contractors. This year, the CSLB closed 133 cases on unlicensed contractors in Orange County, either sending them notices to appear in county court or administrative citations, according to CSLB data. State law requires that all jobs valued at $500 or more for labor and materials must be done by a licensed contractor.
To get a license, contractors must pass several tests and get a background check from the Department of Justice. Those with offenses substantially related to contracting are not granted licenses. There are currently about 315,000 licensed contractors in California. Because unlicensed operators don't carry worker's compensation insurance, they often cost less. But if a worker is injured on the job, the homeowner could be liable. Also, if there is a contract disagreement homeowners have very few options, said a CSLB news release.
By Brittany Levine - The Orange County Register
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