Consumer Protection

  1. Unlicensed or Fraudulent Contractors
  2. Better Business Bureau (BBB) Tips

As a result of increased demand for constructions services, many unlicensed contractors seek out work. Please check with the Contractor's State Licensing Board website to make sure that the contractor you hire is licensed, insured and bonded at the CSLB website and that they have the appropriate specialty license if required. Contracting without a license is a crime and enhanced penalties are provided for contracting without a license during a state of emergency. Reports of unlicensed contractors can also be made on the website.

Additionally, some contractors may take on more work that they are able to perform or try to exact a greater deposit than the $1,000 deposit they are authorized by law to require before work commences. Reports of any problems with licensed contractors should also be reported to the State Contractors Board.

Therefore, before signing a contract with a contractor for any wildfire-related repairs or rebuilding, consumers are encouraged to follow these guidelines:

  • Do not do anything based only on a handshake. For both home improvement projects and new construction of single family homes, there must be a contract in writing signed by both parties and the consumer must be furnished a copy of the written agreement (signed by the contractor) before work starts. Additionally, all changes to the original contract must be made in writing and signed by both parties. After a disaster, consumers have seven business days to cancel a contract, as long as it was not signed in the contractor's place of business.
  • Be cautious when making a down payment because it is common for fraudsters who receive a big down payment to then disappear without completing any of the contracted work. For a home improvement job in California the down payment can total no more than 10% of the contract price or $1,000, whichever is less.
  • It is illegal for an unlicensed person to advertise that they can do construction work unless the person clearly states that they are "not a licensed contractor." The person must be licensed by the CSLB to contract for work that costs $500 or more (labor and materials).
  • The contractors license number and business name must be displayed on all commercially registered vehicles used in the course of business. Additionally, the contractors license number must be listed on any contract, bid, or advertisement for construction work.
  • Fraudsters may steal a business name and/or license number and represent it as their own or say that they work for a licensed contractor even though they are actually not affiliated with that contractor. For a home improvement project, only someone with a contractors license, or an employee of a licensed contractor who is a registered Home Improvement Salesperson on file with the CSLB, is allowed to give a bid and/or sign a contract.
  • Consumers can use the "Instant License Check" feature on the CSLB website to look up a contractor or Home Improvement Salesperson by name, license number, or doing business as (DBA), to verify that they are in fact a licensed contractor or registered Home Improvement Salesperson. Consumers can also get a wealth of information on rebuilding after a disaster by visiting the "Disaster Help Center" on the CSLB website.

It is a felony to contract without a license in a declared disaster area. Additionally, any person involved in a scheme to defraud a consumer of a residential or nonresidential structure in connection with the offer or performance of repairs to the structure for damage caused by a natural disaster could be ordered to make full restitution to the victim and/or pay a fine of up to $25,000 and could also be imprisoned.

If you believe you have been the victim of disaster-related contractor or construction fraud, please contact the FBI San Francisco Division or the Contractors State License Board.