5 ways to avoid getting duped by a bad contractor


Problems with contractors can be resolved in various ways, including lawsuits or small claims court.

If a contractor is licensed, mediation is available from the California Contractors State License Board depending on the case and the circumstances. There’s no limit on the amounts settled on as a result of mediation.

If the dispute is not settled at that juncture, a CSLB representative has several options for resolution, including arbitration, which can be used to decide disputes alleging damages up to $50,000.

“I do want to stress that neither mediation nor arbitration is an automatic way that people can use to settle contractor-related disputes,” said Steve Breen at the CSLB.


With a rise in home remodeling, the destruction that fire season poses and an abundance of misleading, online handyman ads, consumers must be increasingly savvy about dealing with contractors, especially unlicensed ones.

A recent law enforcement sting at a home in Dana Point nabbed a dozen Orange County contractors, all arrested on suspicion of operating without a license or advertising illegally.

Despite statewide stings and consumer-friendly websites such as Angie’s List, problems persist. You can lose thousands of dollars if the contractor you hired does sub-par work or skips out on the job. And if an uninsured worker happens to, say, fall off a ladder, you could be legally liable.

Here’s how to avoid trouble:

1) Don’t be fooled by snazzy photos

Under California law, an unlicensed contractor can only perform jobs with an estimated cost, including labor and materials, of up to $500. Jump on Craigslist or some other sites, though, and you’ll see contractors without license numbers displaying nifty photos of projects that obviously would carry higher price tags. Or there may be a line saying the contractor’s license is in the works. Imagine pulling that one on a police officer who stops you in traffic.

State Sen. Ted Lieu of Torrance wants to amend the state law to prohibit unlicensed contractors from including photos of work that costs more than $500. “Contractors should only be allowed to advertise for jobs that they can legally perform,” he said.

Misleading online ads also undercut those who play by the rules. “These people are able to advertise side-by-side with the legitimate guys,” said Rick Lopes of California’s Contractors State License Board. “It puts our licensed people at a disadvantage.”

If legislation passes, it could take effect in 2015. Until then, caveat emptor.

2) Get the correct license number

Contractors must display their license number wherever they advertise their business – even on the side of a truck. You want to get the number issued by the Contractors State License Board – not another number a contractor may offer instead: the city business license.

You can check a contractor’s license number and status at or 800-321-2752.