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General Licensing Requirements
 
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Contractors License and Performance Bonds
 

General Requirements

1. Who can become a licensed contractor?

To qualify to become a licensed contractor an individual must be 18 years of age or older and have the experience and skills necessary to manage the daily activities of a construction business, including field supervision. Or, you must be represented by someone else with the necessary experience and skills, who serves as your qualifying individual.

The contractor or other person who will act as the qualifying individual must have had, within the ten years immediately before the filing of the application, at least four full years of experience at a journey level, or as a foreman, supervisor, or contractor in the classification for which he or she is applying. The experience claimed on the application must be verifiable and individuals who have knowledge of the experience must certify the accuracy of the experience information provided by the applicant (page 3 of the application).

2. Who must be licensed as a contractor?

All businesses or individuals who construct or alter any building, highway, road, parking facility, railroad, excavation, or other structure in California must be licensed by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) if the total cost (labor and materials) of one or more contracts on the project is $500 or more. Contractors, including subcontractors, specialty contractors, and persons engaged in the business of home improvement (with the exception of joint ventures and projects involving federal funding) must be licensed before submitting bids. Licenses may be issued to individuals, partnerships, corporations, or joint ventures. The CSLB does not issue licenses to Limited Liability Companies (LLC's).

3. Is anyone exempt from the requirement to be licensed?

Yes. Here are some of the exemptions:

red button Work on a project for which the combined value of labor, materials, and all other costs on one or more contracts is less than $500 falls within the minor work exemption. Work which is part of a larger or major project, whether undertaken by the same or different contractors, may not be divided into amounts less than $500 in an attempt to meet the $500 exemption. Until January 1, 2005, unlicensed contractors were required to provide a purchaser a written disclosure stating that they are not licensed by the CSLB. This disclosure is no longer required;
 
red button An employee who is paid wages, who does not usually work in an independently established business, and who does not have direction or control over the performance of work or who does not determine the final results of the work or project;
 
red button Public personnel working on public projects;
 
red button Officers of a court acting within the scope of their office;
 
red button Public utilities working under specified conditions;
 
red button Oil and gas operations performed by an owner or lessee;
 
red button Owner-builders who build or improve existing structures on their own property if they either do the work themselves or use their own employees (paid in wages) to do the work. This exemption is only valid if the structure is not intended or offered for sale within one year of completion;
 
red button Owner-builders who build or improve existing structures on their own property if they contract for the construction with a licensed contractor or contractors. This exemption is applicable only if no more than four of such structures are offered for sale in any one calendar year;
 
red button Owner-builders who improve their main place of residence, have actually resided there for one year prior to completion of the work, and who complete the work prior to sale. This exemption is limited to two structures within a three-year period;
 
red button Sale or installation of finished products that do not become a fixed part of the structure;
 
red button A seller of installed carpets who holds a retail furniture dealer's licenses but who contracts for installation of the carpet with a licensed carpet installer;
 
red button Security alarm company operators (licensed by the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services) who install, maintain, monitor, sell, alter, or service alarm systems (fire alarm company operators must be licensed by the CSLB); and
 
red button Persons whose activities consist only of installing satellite antenna systems on residential structures or property. These persons must be registered with the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair.

4. Do I have to reside in California to get and keep a contractor's license?

No.

5. Does California recognize contractors' licenses issued by other states or countries?

No. However, California does have reciprocal agreements with some states that recognize the experience qualifications for certain trades. It is only after the Registrar of Contractors has entered into a reciprocal agreement with the other state and under certain conditions that the Registrar may waive the written trade examination for a contractor licensed in another state. Applicants must still qualify by taking and passing the Law and Business Examination. If you have trade experience or a contractor's license issued by another state or country and you want to contract for work in California, this experience may be acceptable. In any case, you must apply for and be issued a license by the California Contractors State License Board.

6. What happens if I contract without a license?

A contractor's license is not necessary as long as you don't advertise yourself as a licensed contractor and never contract for jobs costing $500 or more, including labor and materials.

The Contractors State License Board has established statewide investigative fraud teams that focus on unlicensed contractors and the underground economy. To curtail illegal contracting activities, these units conduct stings and sweeps which are publicized to ensure maximum consumer education.

Contracting without a license is usually a misdemeanor, carrying a potential sentence of up to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine, and a potential administrative fine of $200 to $15,000. Subsequent violations increase criminal penalties; if there is a prior conviction for contracting without a license, a fine of 20 percent of the contract price of the work performed, or a $4,500 fine shall be imposed. Also, the unlicensed contractor shall be confined to jail for no less than 90 days.

Felony charges may be filed against those who contract without a license for any project that is covered by a state of emergency or disaster proclaimed by the Governor of California or the President of the United States. Felony convictions may result in a state prison term as specified by the court.

During fiscal year 2003-04 the CSLB filed 1,515 nonlicensee citations and referred 1,057 non-licensees to the District Attorney.

Experience Requirements

7. What kind of experience is required for a contractor's license?

You must have at least four years of experience is required to qualify to take the examination. Credit for experience is given only for experience at a journey level or as a foreman, supervising employee, contractor, or owner-builder. These are defined as follows:

red button A journeyman is a person who has completed an apprenticeship program or is an experienced worker, not a trainee, and is fully qualified and able to perform the trade without supervision.
 
red button A foreman or supervisor is a person who has the knowledge and skill of a journeyman and directly supervises physical construction.
 
red button A contractor is a person who manages the daily activities of a construction business, including field supervision.
 
red button An owner-builder is a person who has the knowledge and skills of a journeyman and who performs work on his or her own property.

All experience claims must be verified by a qualified and responsible person, such as a homeowner, an employer, fellow employee, other journeyman, contractor, union representative, building inspector, architect, or engineer. The person verifying your claim must have firsthand knowledge of your experience--that is, he or she must have observed the work that you have done--and must complete the experience certification portion of the application. Even if you provide a certification of your experience, be prepared to furnish documentation of any experience you claim on the application whenever such documentation is requested. The failure to provide this documentation will result in rejection of your application or denial of the license.

8. Are there education requirements for a license?

No. You do not have to meet any education requirements in order to qualify for a contractor's license. However, many community colleges and private schools offer instruction in vocational education. For more information, contact the:

Chancellor's Office
California Community Colleges
1102 Q Street
Sacramento, CA 95814
www.cccco.edu
  or   Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education
400 R Street, Suite 5000
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 445-3427
www.dca.ca.gov/bppve

(PLEASE NOTE: CSLB cannot make referrals or recommendations regarding license preparation schools.)

9. May I substitute any education, technical training, or apprenticeship training for the required experience?

You may receive credit for technical training, apprenticeship training, or education instead of a portion of the required four years of practical experience. At least one year must be practical experience. You must provide written documentation of any training or education claimed in place of experience. Acceptable documentation includes copies of apprenticeship certificates and college transcripts.

10. How much credit can I expect to receive for technical training, the completion of an approved apprenticeship program, or related college or university education?

The CSLB may credit training, apprenticeship, or education as follows:

A maximum of 1-1/2 years upon submission of transcripts of the following:

red button An A.A. degree from an accredited school or college in building or construction management;

A maximum of two years upon submission of transcripts of any of the following:

red button A four-year degree from an accredited college or university in the fields of accounting, business, economics, mathematics, physics, or areas related to the specific trade or craft for which application is being made;
 
red button A professional degree in law; or
 
red button Substantial college or university course work in accounting, architecture, business, construction technology, drafting, economics, engineering, mathematics, or physics.

A maximum of three years upon submission of any of the following:

red button A Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship from an accredited apprenticeship program or a certified statement of completion of apprenticeship training from a union in the classification for which application is being made;
 
red button Submission of transcripts for a four-year degree from an accredited college or university in architecture, construction technology, or any field of engineering that is directly related to the classification for which application is being made; or
 
red button Submission of transcripts for a four-year degree from an accredited college or university in the field of horticulture or landscape horticulture for the Landscaping (C-27) classification.

License Classifications

11. What are the contractor license classifications

The CSLB issues licenses to contract in particular trades or fields of the construction profession. Each separate trade is recognized as a "classification." You may add as many classifications to your license as you can qualify for.

The CSLB issues licenses for the following classifications:

red button Class "A" -- General Engineering Contractor. The principal business is in connection with fixed works requiring specialized engineering knowledge and skill.
 
red button Class "B" -- General Building Contractor. The principal business is in connection with any structure built, being built, or to be built, requiring in its construction the use of at least two unrelated building trades or crafts; however, framing or carpentry projects may be performed without limitation. In some instances, a general building contractor may take a contract for projects involving one trade only if the general contractor holds the appropriate specialty license or subcontracts with an appropriately licensed specialty contractor to perform the work.
 
red button Class "C" -- Specialty Contractor. There are 41 separate "C" license classifications for contractors whose construction work requires special skill and whose principal contracting business involves the use of specialized building trades or crafts. Manufacturers are considered to be contractors if engaged in on-site construction, alteration, or repair.

12. In what trades may I obtain a class "C" Specialty Contractor's License?

You may obtain a license in any of the classifications listed below. For a detailed description of these classifications, consult the CSLB Laws and Regulations in the California Contractors License Law and Reference Book. (For ordering information, see Question 34.)

CLASSIFICATION   CODE   SECTION
General Engineering Contractor   A-01   7056
General Building Contractor   B-01   7057
Boiler, Hot Water Heating and Steam Fitting    C-04    832.04
Building Moving and Demolition    C-21    832.21
Cabinet, Millwork and Finish Carpentry    C-06    832.06
Concrete    C-08    832.08
Construction Zone Traffic Control    C-31    832.31
Drywall    C-09    832.09
Earthwork and Paving    C-12    832.12
Electrical (General)    C-10    832.10
Electrical Signs    C-45    832.45
Elevator    C-11    832.11
Fencing    C-13    832.13
Fire Protection    C-16    832.16
Flooring and Floor Covering    C-15    832.15
Framing and Rough Carpentry    C-05    832.05
General Manufactured Housing    C-47    832.47
Glazing    C-17    832.17
Insulation and Acoustical    C-02    832.02
Landscaping    C-27    832.27
Lathing and Plastering    C-35    832.35
Limited Specialty    C-61    832.61
Lock and Security Equipment    C-28    832.28
Low Voltage Systems    C-07    832.07
Masonry    C-29    832.29
Ornamental Metals    C-23    832.23
Painting and Decorating    C-33    832.33
Parking and Highway Improvement    C-32    832.32
Pipeline    C-34    832.34
Plumbing    C-36    832.36
Refrigeration    C-38    832.38
Roofing    C-39    832.39
Sanitation System    C-42    832.42
Sheet Metal    C-43    832.43
Solar    C-46    832.46
Steel, Reinforcing    C-50    832.50
Steel, Structural    C-51    832.51
Swimming Pool    C-53    832.53
Tile (Ceramic and Mosaic)    C-54    832.54
Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning    C-20    832.20
Water Conditioning    C-55    832.55
Welding    C-60    832.60
Well-Drilling (Water)    C-57    832.57

13. Are there any special requirements for contractors who work with asbestos or other hazardous substances?

Contractors who work with asbestos or other hazardous substances are regulated by the United States Department of Labor, Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and the California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH), as well as by the CSLB. These contractors are subject to a number of certification, registration, reporting, and safety requirements.

The following are some of the CSLB's basic requirements:

red button Before a license will be issued, every licensee must have completed, signed, and returned the open-book examination contained in the booklet, Asbestos: A Contractor's Guide and Open-Book Examination. The booklet contains general information about asbestos abatement standards.
 
red button Asbestos abatement contractors must be certified by the CSLB. To become certified, a contractor must take and pass an EPA-accredited asbestos abatement course; complete the Application for Asbestos Certification; pass a comprehensive asbestos abatement exam; and register with the Asbestos Contractor Registration Unit of DOSH.
 
red button Contractors who do hazardous substance removal work must be certified by the CSLB--they must complete an Application for Hazardous Substance Removal and Remedial Actions, and they must pass a CSLB certification examination. Any contractor who has a Class "A" General Engineering, "B" General Building, "C-36" Plumbing, "C-61 (D-40)" Service Station Equipment and Maintenance (only those licensees who currently hold this classification), "C-12" Earthwork and Paving, or "C-57" Well Drilling (Water) license is eligible to be certified.
 
  In addition, contractors who install or remove underground storage tanks must hold this certification. CSLB policy currently limits certified contractors doing underground storage tank work as follows:

red button General Engineering "A" contractors may install and/or remove underground storage tanks for any purpose at any location.
 
red button Plumbing "C-36" contractors may install and/or remove any underground storage tank that provides service to a building--including storage tanks for service stations.
 
red button Service Station Equipment and Maintenance "C-61/D-40" contractors may install and/or remove fuel underground storage tanks at service stations or any other site up to a capacity of 20,000 gallons. (No new C-61/D-40 licenses are issued for these purposes.)
 
red button General Building "B" contractors may, in the course of work performed under a contract that meets the requirements for the "B" classification (see Question 11), install and/or remove an underground storage tank if they have been properly certified for Hazardous Substance Removal and Remedial Actions.

14. Are there any other requirements I need to complete?

Until January 1, 2004, all contractors who engaged in the business of home improvement or who provided goods and services for home improvement were required to obtain the Home Improvement Certification. This certification is no longer required. The home improvement contract requirements still exist, however. Please see Chapter 5 of the California Contractor’s License Law and Reference Book for details.

 

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