Ask the Contractors Board …
Experts Answer Common Home Improvement Questions
California Contractors State License Board
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 heard that you need to make sure your contractor has general liability insurance. How can I verify if the contractor I hire is insured? I want to make sure the person who repairs my home has the right coverage.
A. Contractors are required to give you a notice about commercial general liability insurance and tell you if they carry it. If he or she is insured, your contractor must provide you with the telephone number and name of the insurance company. Go ahead and check with the insurance company to see if the contractor is insured with them before work starts. Although it’s optional for contractors to carry this, it’s best to hire a contractor with general liability insurance, to cover any property damage or third-party injury that occurs on the work-site.
Q: I am preparing to landscape my back yard and I want to install a spa as well. Do I need to get a swimming pool/spa contractor in addition to the landscape contractor to install the spa, or can the landscape contractor install it?
A: You must either hire a landscaping contractor who also has a swimming pool/spa license, or a sub-contractor with that license to work with the landscape contractor. A general landscaping contractor cannot install a spa with a landscaping license alone. Make sure to also check the license of the sub-contractor that is hired to install the spa, in addition to the license of the landscape contractor. Also ensure the contractor has worker’s compensation insurance to cover all sub-contractors, in order to relieve you of all liability in case of an accident or job related injury. For more information, visit www.cslb.ca.gov and look at the “Choosing the Right Landscaper” for your landscaping questions.
Q: I am an elderly woman who needs to have some repairs made to my home. I know the elderly get taken advantage of quite often, and I want to make sure I am hiring someone who will do a good job and not rip me off. I am also a little concerned about my safety while a stranger works in the house. Any advice?
A: You are right, there are operators who will prey on the elderly, but you don’t have to be one of the victims. It is important that you research different contractors for your job, get at least three bids, verify the contractor’s license, and ask friends or family for referrals of contractors that have done work on their home. The CSLB website at www.cslb.ca.gov has more information designed just for seniors. If you don’t feel safe when a contractor is working in your home, then invite a friend over, or ask a family member to assist you in the process of managing the contractor. If you are vigilant about the project and the paperwork that accompanies it, you are more likely to have a worry free contracting experience.
Q: Yesterday a contractor came to my door and said since he was in the neighborhood he wanted to give me a free estimate on new windows for my home. At first I agreed. Then he really started pressuring me, saying my old windows were in really bad shape and were in danger of leaking. So, I signed a contract to have it done. Since then I have found a much better deal with someone else. Is there anything I can do to get out of the first contract?
A: Yes, but only if you hurry! California's Home Solicitation Sales Act gives you until midnight of the third business day after you sign the contract to cancel it. This includes all days except Sunday and major holidays. The purpose is to protect consumers from the pressure they get to make an immediate purchasing decision from someone going door-to-door.
Unless the contract is negotiated at the contractor's place of business, the buyer qualifies for the three-day right to cancel. The notice must be in writing and can be a letter, telegram or even a FAX sent to the address specified in the contract. Make sure the language clearly states that you are canceling the contract.
In the future, be sure to take your time when hiring a contractor, and get three bids before choosing a contractor for home improvements. This will ensure you get the most for your money and don’t get scammed by an unlicensed or unscrupulous contractor. You should always be skeptical when someone shows up at your front door and pressures you into signing a contract.
Q: I am having a pool installed. The contractor said he could offer a better deal if I paid in cash. Is this okay?
A: The Contractors Board recommends that you never pay a contractor in cash. Unless you get a receipt, it’s tough to trace the payment, and if something goes wrong you have little proof or recourse. By law, a swimming pool contractor can require only 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less as a down payment. It’s also important that you don’t pay upfront for materials before they’re delivered or for work that hasn’t been completed. In fact, be sure that the down payment and subsequent payment schedule are clearly written out in your contract. This is the best way to protect yourself from being taken advantage of by a fraudulent or unlicensed contractor. Learn more about hiring a swimming pool contractor from the CSLB publication, Before You Dive into Swimming Pool Construction. You can download the booklet on the CSLB website: www.cslb.ca.gov