Ask the Contractors Board …
Experts Answer Common Home Improvement Questions
By Bert Sandman, Chair
California Contractors State License Board


Sacramento: Do you have questions about hiring and managing building contractors? The California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) has answers. For more information, or to check out a contractor’s license, bond and workers’ compensation insurance information, visit the CSLB Web site at www.cslb.ca.gov.
Q: I have gotten a few bids to get my leaking roof fixed. One of the contractors said we don't need to have a written contract to do the work. He said that it's not a big job, so it's really not necessary. Is this true? Do I have to have a written contract, regardless of the size of the job?
A: Written home improvement contracts are necessary for jobs that cost $500 or more, including labor and supplies. Even if the job is less than $500, which may be your case, it's still a good idea to have a written contract because it outlines the terms that you and your contractor have agreed upon. The old axiom is true: "A verbal contract is as good as the paper it's not written on." More information about what contracts should include is available at www.cslb.ca.gov.
Q: The winter storms lodged a branch into my rain gutters and now they are flooded and broken. I need them fixed ASAP, but I am on a tight budget and unsure how to find the best contractor for the cheapest price. Any recommendations?
A: Yes, there are many ways to find a credible and affordable contractor. Looking one up in the phone book is the easiest way, however, you need to make sure you check the contractor's history and verify the contractor's license before hiring someone with whom you've never done business. Your local Better Business Bureau may be another resource. Local roofing associations or building associations have high standards for their members and may be able to refer you to someone who is in your area. Additionally, ask family, friends and neighbors who have had work done on their homes. See if they can provide a reference. You can verify a contractor's license, and check to see if any formal complaints have been filed against them by going to www.cslb.ca.gov. By law, contractors must have their license number in their ad, or say that they are not licensed. So, you can check them out, even before you call them.
Q: I am having new windows installed in my home. I changed my mind and want windows with a different design than originally specified in the contract. I have told the contractor about the change I want, and he seems pretty agreeable to it. Should I still amend the contract to include the change? It just seems like a lot of unneeded hassle.
A: Yes, you should insist the contract is amended to include the change in the window design. Although it may seem to be a "hassle" to the contractor to amend the contract, you should always include amendments in writing to show proof of what you and the contractor have agreed to. Also, if the changes you want made aren't made to your satisfaction, and you don't have a written contract, it will be much more difficult for you to resolve the dispute without litigation.
(Bert Sandman is the Chair of the Contractors State License Board. The CSLB operates under the umbrella of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, licensing and regulating California’s 292,000 contractors. The CSLB investigates 20,000 complaints against contractors annually. In fiscal year 2004-05, the CSLB helped consumers get more than $36 million in restitution.)


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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