Whether you’re a homeowner who has experienced the reason why the Contractor’s State Licensing Board (CSLB) exists, or a contractor who has seen some sketchy work from a fellow “contractor”, you’re here because you need to file a complaint against a contractor.
Let’s not waste any time – here’s a comprehensive guide to preparing and executing on a contractor complaint.
California has some of the strictest consumer protection laws in the country, and there are dozens of them. It’s important to have at least a basic understanding of these pieces of the law as you consider legal action against a contractor.
- California Contractors State License Board (CSLB). The CSLB is the state agency that oversees contractor licensing. They specifically handle complaints as well, so this is the supervisory body that will handle the legal and financial repercussions of your complaint.
- California Business and Professions Code Section 7000: This piece of legislation governs the licensing and regulation of contractors.
- The Right to Repair Act. This act gives homeowners the right to request repairs and sets forth a process for resolving construction defect disputes. This is not the primary piece of legislation that you’ll use to enact your complaint, but it can be added onto any civil legal action.
It’s important to note – you will become VERY familiar with as you work through the complaint process. The other two pieces of contractor-related legal act are important to know about, but not critical for every situation.
Filing a Complaint: A Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Gather Your Evidence
No matter what has transpired, no matter how serious the matter, it’s always important for you to gather as much hard evidence of the malicious or negligent actions of the contractor as possible.
Paperwork is your friend here. In general, when dealing with contracts of any kind, it’s important to always get it in writing. You may trust your associate, and they may be honest in that moment, but things change quickly on a construction site. Make sure you’re protected.
Here’s some key pieces of evidence to gather:
- A written contract or other documents outlining the agreed-upon scope of work
- Invoices, receipts, and other proof of payment
- Photographs or videos showing the issues with the contractor’s work
- Any communication with the contractor, such as emails, texts, or voicemails
- Witness statements or expert evaluations, if applicable
- Proof (or lack thereof) of a CSLB license
- Any statements from former employers or clients
- Any former CSLB complaints on the contractor
Step 2: Check the Contractor’s License
Before filing your complaint, ensure that the contractor is indeed licensed in California.
The first thing you’ll need is the contractor’s license. You may have to ask for your contractor’s number, but many will provide it on their invoices, license, or in some paperwork before you’ve engaged in work.
Once you have their number you can check their license. You can verify their license status on the CSLB website.
Be aware that if you ask for their license after a confrontation or serious event has taken place, it is possible that they may disappear.
In either case, they may be licensed, they may be unlicensed. If a serious issue has taken place – especially in situations where you feel the health and safety of people are at risk – it’s important to report it to the CSLB.
Step 3: File Your Complaint with the CSLB
Once you have all the evidence and the necessary information to file a complaint against a licensed contractor in California, you can easily head to the CSLB website and complete the online complaint form
Alternatively, you can request a paper form by calling their toll-free number at 1-800-321-CSLB (2752). Fill out the form, attaching any supporting evidence, and submit it to the CSLB.
Step 4: The Investigation Process
Once your complaint has been filed, the CSLB will review the information and determine if further investigation is warranted. In many cases, this is the last you’ll hear of it – the CSLB will usually handle the situation appropriately.
If they need additional information, an investigator will be assigned to your case, and they may contact you for additional information or to schedule a site visit. Either way, they are trying to build a legal case against this individual or company to protect the public.
Step 6: Possible Outcomes and Next Steps
After the investigation is complete, the CSLB will decide on the appropriate course of action. Possible outcomes include:
- Informal resolution. The CSLB may mediate a resolution between you and the contractor to make you whole. Basically, they will legally require the contractor to pay you back the damages you received as a result of their work.
- Disciplinary action. If the contractor is found to be in violation of California law or licensing regulations, they may face disciplinary action such as fines, probation, or even license suspension or revocation. If they’re a repeat offender, they may see jail time.
- Referral to a different agency. In extreme cases, your complaint may fall outside the CSLB’s jurisdiction. In that scenario, they may refer you to another agency that can better address your concerns. Usually, this would be a situation where it involved crossing state lines or similar Federal situations.
In some cases, the CSLB may determine that there is not enough evidence to take action against the contractor. That’s life – but it doesn’t mean it has to end there.
The CSLB cannot prosecute every single case, and sometimes the burden of proof is greater than what would net a result in civil court. If you think you’ve got a case, it might be worth it to contact a lawyer and see if it’s worthwhile.
Be Prepared: Tips for a Successful Complaint
To increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome, keep these tips in mind when filing a complaint against a licensed contractor in California. These little things can be the difference between nailing an unscrupulous contractor and them slipping out on technicalities or lack of evidence.
- Be thorough and accurate. Provide as much detailed information as possible, including dates, locations, and specifics about the issue.
- Organize your evidence. Ensure your documents, photos, and other evidence are well-organized and easy to understand. Making things easy for the legal teams will make it easier for them to help your case.
- Stay professional. Keep your communication with the contractor and the CSLB courteous and professional. This contractor may have hurt you or your family personally – but it’s extremely important to stick to the facts and avoid letting emotions dictate your interactions.
Speak Up – It’s Good For All Of Us
There are plenty of people out there who would just love to get away with screwing up your home and potentially costing you thousands of dollars in damages. Plenty of them.
Don’t let you, your family, or your fellow Californians suffer at the hands of these sketchy clowns who parade themselves as trustworthy contractors who have put in the hours and spent thousands of dollars to be certified by the CSLB.
Letting unscrupulous or unlicensed contractors do shoddy work reflects poorly on all contractors in California. If you see someone doing something wrong, and you know it – contact the CSLB to make it right.