DennisBeaverNovember 23, 2013 • By Dennis Beaver

If you are about to hire a contractor, then today’s story should be of special interest, and we are confident it will minimize the chances of banging your head against a wall while screaming, “Why did we hire this guy?”

Helen, who reads You and the Law in The Selma Enterprise, sent us this question:

“We are going to remodel our kitchen, but I am worried about the contractor my husband wants to use. He’s an acquaintance from church who I know is in serious financial trouble. My husband feels that the poor guy needs the work and wants to help.

“His proposal is way below any of the others we obtained and, I admit, that is attractive. Still I am concerned. We are long-time readers and trust your advice.”

‘They are about to make two of the three worst mistakes possible’

We ran Helen’s question by Bakersfield attorney Tim Scanlon, who specializes in construction and real estate matters. Shaking his head, Scanlon immediately commented:

“Your readers could easily make two of the three most common mistakes possible in selecting a contractor.”

• Hiring someone based on a relationship and not on their skills.

• Allowing price alone to become the most important factor. The least expensive are typically contractors who have no license, no insurance, no bond and are frequently in financial trouble.

• Hiring someone off of a magazine ad where they have no actual office or physical address.

“Any of these three factors are a huge red flag which often leads to the worst nightmare you could ever imagine. You always need to check out a contractor and there are extremely simple ways of doing this.”

How to verify a contractor’s license and history

“A kitchen remodel easily puts thousands of dollars at risk. Therefore, discover if this person has an active license — the correct license — and the easiest way is by calling the Contractor’s State License Board directly or by going to their website —

“Look at Instant License Check, by business name or the contractor’s individual name. It is not only important to have an active license, but its history is critical to know as well. Has it been suspended at any point in time since it was issued? If so, why?

“But having a license isn’t enough. As there are close to 50 different types of licenses, is it the appropriate license for this job?  Projects valued at $500 or more require the contractor to be licensed. If the project involves two or more trades (such as drywall and granite), a Class B General Contractor’s license is required. For simpler projects only involving a single trade (such as granite only), the contractor must hold a specialty license in that trade.

“What about the history of this license? It can show as active, but could have been suspended and reinstated over time. So an active, current license today is only part of the story.

“If you find that a license has been suspended several times in the past few years, it’s a possible sign the contractor has been sued repeatedly and not paid outstanding judgments, or that the contractor has let important items such as insurance or bonds lapse.

“Next, look at the bond history. Contractors are required to have a bond, which can be cancelled for nonpayment or because the contractor failed to pay a judgment. Has a bond been canceled due to an outstanding judgment? Look for regular renewals without interruption, as it is a good sign of a responsible contractor.

“All contractors are going to make mistakes. Those who don’t get them resolved wind up in trouble with their customers and the Contractors State License Board. You want someone who, if a mistake is made, will fix it. Just stay away from any contractor who has been in trouble numerous with the license board.”

Only had a license for a brief time? In court often?  

“Be extra-careful of hiring a contractor only licensed for a brief time,” warns Scanlon. “Merely having a license does not mean that you know how to run a business, or how to truly be a contractor, keeping your customers satisfied.”

“Finally,” Scanlon recommends, “Go on your county’s Superior Court website, search the business and individual name of the contractor that you intend to use, and see if they are often a plaintiff or defendant. If you see them listed too often, this is a huge red flag — stay away! And, while you’re at it, look at the criminal case listings as well.”

Do you know how much of a deposit a contractor may legally ask? We’ll tell you next time as well as how to not shoot yourself in the foot when working with a contractor.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.