California Contractors Legal Guide
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How to Become a Contractor in California
Anyone performing work that adds up to $500 in labor and materials is required to be a licensed contractor. To be licensed, a person must:
- Have four years of education or experience in the field they are seeking licensure
- Be fingerprinted
- Pass an FBI background check
- Be bonded and insured
Are There Different Types of Contractors?
Currently in California, there are 43 different licensing classifications, outlined below:
- Class A: General Engineering
- Class B: General Building Contractor
- Class C: Specialty Contractor
It is important to note that contractor's licenses are only required for construction on, maintenance, and improvement of real property. It does not, for instance, apply to individuals who are transporting supplies or materials to construction projects. It also would not apply to someone who is selling goods or services, although there may be a different licensing board depending on the type of good or service.
Furthermore, Class A and B contractors may be required to obtain certain Class C certifications for certain jobs, or subcontract with someone who has those certifications. Finally, while many general contractor may engage in many types of construction work, no Class A or B contractor can contract for any job involving fire protection or water well drilling unless they hold that Class C certification.
What Are Some Issues Surrounding Contractors in California?
According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, the construction industry is one of the largest in California. As such, you can expect ample regulation and legal protections intended for consumers and contractors alike.
Some common legal issues involving contractors are:
- Contract - the terms and conditions of employment, what is expected of the contractor and owner, and how much the work will cost are typically covered by contract. Additionally, it is not uncommon for breaches of and the enforcement of certain terms to become an issue between consumers and contractors. Finally, if a contractor is hired to inspect property and fails to discover or disclose defects, they may be held liable.
- Property Rights - construction liens, occasionally referred to as mechanic's liens are one way of ensuring a contractor is paid for their work. Furthermore, California's state laws and licensing board may restrict the areas in which you may work.
- Personal Injury and Tort - sometimes, subcontractors or employees may be injured on the job, which would raise worker's compensation issues. Additionally, even the best construction may fail and injure someone, and a contractor may be held liable for those injuries. Finally, a contractor may have certain duties, such as lateral support.
- Criminal and Civil Liability - anyone who is not a licensed contractor that is discovered by the state board faces up to 6 months in jail and up to $5,000 in fines. Multiple convictions can lead to fines of $10,000 and mandatory jail sentences. In addition to this, there is a myriad of civil fines imposed on licensed contractors who take advantage of consumers, mentally disable or elderly, engages in unfair competition, falsely advertisers and a myriad of other unscrupulous practices.
Should I Seek Legal Help?
Due to the complicated nature of legal issues for contractors and the potential for civil liability, if you are a licensed contractor in California, it would be wise to seek the advice of an attorney. You may also consider retaining a lawyer to be on hand in the event you face a legal dispute. If you have unknowingly (or intentionally) engaged in unlicensed contracting work, seeking the advice of counsel immediately could help you avoid criminal prosecution and potentially assist you in finding the right classification for you so you can lawfully continue your work.
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Last Modified: 09-10-2014 03:13 PM PDT
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