Home improvement contractors
are the most complained about industry in the United States according to a recent study conducted by the Consumer Federation of America. Here are some simple things you can do to ensure that you are getting a qualified professional.
1. Make sure that your contractor is licensed by California's Contractors' State License Board (CSLB). Any contractor performing a job where the cost, including labor and materials, is $500 or more, must be licensed by the CSLB and are subject to laws designed to protect the consumer. Unlicensed contractors are a danger because they expose you to significant financial harm in the event of injury or property damage. Few unlicensed contractors have bonding or workers' compensation insurance. Although an unlicensed contractor may give you a low bid, the risks of possible financial and legal consequences you may face outweigh any benefits a lower bid may seem to offer.
Please note: A license number on a bid or contract does not necessarily mean the license is valid. Before you sign anything, call the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-CSLB, or check the website, www.cslb.ca.gov to make sure the contractor is properly licensed in the class for the work to be performed and that the license is in good standing.
2. Make sure any contractor you hire has Workers' Compensation AND Liability Insurance coverage. Ask for certificates of insurance to verify the contractor has the proper insurance to cover property damage and personal liability in case of accidents. In California, if a contractor has employees, Workers' Compensation Insurance coverage is required by law. If a worker is injured on your property, and the contractor does not have insurance, you are the one responsible for medical and rehabilitation expenses if necessary. Don't let your homeowner's insurance policy become your contractor's liability coverage!
3. Don't let a salesperson talk you into being your own general contractor or owner/builder. “Owner/builder” describes a situation in which the homeowner becomes the general contractor. As an owner/builder, you, not the person you hire, assume responsibility for the overall job, which may include such things as state and federal taxes, workers' compensation, and other legal liabilities. Unless you are very experienced in construction, it is best to leave these matters to a licensed contractor.
4. Check your contractor's rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Whether or not a business is accredited by the BBB, the Bureau reports on all companies that have been the subject of frequent inquires or complaints. However, to become a member of the BBB, a business must agree to conduct business in accordance with Better Business Bureau standards. Before a business is accepted for membership, it is screened to be sure it has met any licensing requirements, that information submitted to the Bureau is correct, that its complaint history is satisfactory, and that its advertising complies with Bureau standards of honesty. A Roper survey shows that 83% of the public prefer to do business with a BBB member.