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Be informed when hiring a home contractor

Updated August 16, 2012

Hiring a licensed contractor for your home improvement project is a good first step in protecting yourself from shoddy work and scam artists. But you can never be too careful. Unscrupulous contractors may talk you into expensive repairs or equipment you simply don't need. It is extremely important to ask questions, to get a second opinion from at least one other contractor, and to call the Building and Safety Division, a local hardware store or the material or equipment manufacturer whenever you're in doubt. The Contractors State License Board can also help.

Before you hire a contractor

  • Before you hire a contractor, the Contractors State license board can supply you with valuable booklets and other information to guide your selection. Consumers can call the license board's information hotline at (800) 321-2752 for a wealth of recorded messages or visit their website.
  • Hire only licensed contractors.
  • Get at least three bids before making your choice.
  • Get a written contract and do not sign anything until you completely understand the terms.
  • Once you've found a contractor, the license board can tell you whether he or she has a valid license. You can check out a license with your touchtone phone using the license board's 800 number or by typing in the contractor's license number or name over the board's website.
  • For more detailed information, you can write to the board to obtain contractors' records of complaints, legal or disciplinary problems and bond status.
  • The license board also accepts complaints in writing from consumers. If a problem arises during your home improvement project, the license board will serve as an arbiter between you and your contractor, aiming for an amicable settlement. The license board also investigates complaints involving unlicensed contractors.
  • If necessary, the board can suspend a contractor's license, fine him or her and direct the contractor to refund your money until a problem has been cleared up. For more information or assistance, call the Contractors State License Board Southern Region Office at (562) 345-7656. The office is located at 12501 East Imperial Highway, Suite 600, Norwalk, 90650. You can also call the 800 number listed above or send e-mail inquiries through the license board's website.
  • Don't pay more than 10 percent or $1,000 as a down payment, whichever is less.
  • Don't pay cash.
  • Don't let payments get ahead of the work. Keep records of your payments.
  • Don't make final payments until you're satisfied with the job, and until the contractor has proven that he or she has paid the labor and materials suppliers.
  • Keep a job file of all papers relating to your project.

Two types of licenses for roofing contractors

First, there are two types of licenses issued by the state that allow a contractor to handle roofing work. Most roofers hold a specialty license in roofing, otherwise known as a "C" license. Others may hold a general contractors' license, or "B" license, that allows them to handle a wider variety of home improvement projects.

To make sure that your contractor works well with roofs, ask for references before you sign the contract, and call these references. If possible, visit some of the contractor's former job sites and inspect their finished work.

For more information, call the Building and Safety Division at (562) 916-1209, or download a copy of "What You Should Know Before You Hire a Contractor," a free booklet that offers hundreds of tips for choosing a reputable contractor, at cslb.ca.gov.

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