Joseph P. Hougnon, Attorney at Law

Contractor’s License Defense

If you’re a contractor in the State of California, nothing is more important to you than your license. It’s how your earn your living, meet your obligations and provide and care for your loved ones. It has taken you years to gain the experience and the training that allowed you to not only qualify for your contractor’s license but also to build a successful business.

Nevertheless, a single complaint made against you has the potential to wipe out everything that you have worked so hard to achieve. Furthermore, the rules and laws that govern contractor’s license disciplinary proceedings are complex. It is nearly impossible for a layperson to navigate these myriad rules and successfully protect their ability to work.

If an investigator from the California Contractor’s State License Board has contacted you, or you have received an accusation in the mail regarding a complaint or other matter, it is important to take the steps necessary to safeguard your livelihood. Contractor’s license defense attorney Joe Hougnon has both the experience and knowledge needed to defend your contractor’s license against investigations and disciplinary proceedings. Whether you have an A, B, or C Contractor’s License, Joe can help protect your business, your family, and your future.

The California Contractor’s State License Board Accusations

There are nearly 300,000 licensed contractors in the State of California. All of these licenses, in over 40 different categories, are regulated by the California Contractor’s State License Board, or CSLB. The CSLB is charged with issuing licenses and imposing discipline in situations where a license holder has negatively impacted the public safety, caused financial injury to a consumer, or has failed to fulfill the terms of an agreement or otherwise violated the rules and regulations governing licensure.

The CSLB Disciplinary Process

A CSLB disciplinary investigation can be initiated by a complaint against a contractor made by a consumer, other individuals in the construction industry, or a government entity. An investigation can also be triggered by a contractor being convicted of a crime. In general, the statute of limitations regarding a contractor’s actions is four years. Complaints brought more than four years after an alleged act will likely be dismissed. The CSLB has jurisdiction over complaints involving poor workmanship, failure to finish a project, failure to pay subcontractors, suppliers or employees, committing building code violations, using false, misleading or deceptive advertising, and working without a license.

Once a complaint is received, it is reviewed to determine if the CSLB has jurisdiction over the matter. A notice is sent to the complaining party that the CSLB has received the complaint and is reviewing the matter. A notice is also sent to the contractor urging them to resolve the issue underlying the complaint without further intervention by the CSLB.

If the matter cannot be resolved between the parties, the CSLB will, if appropriate, first refer the matter to mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, then one of several additional options for dealing with the complaint will be chosen depending on facts of the case.

If the actions of the contractor were not serious and there is no history of other violations, the complaint file may be closed with a warning letter to the contractor. The warning letter will remain on file with the CSLB and can be used against the contractor in future disciplinary action.

More serious cases are referred to an enforcement representative, or ER, for further investigation. The ER will interview the contractor, the complainant, and any other individuals who may have information related to the matter. If the ER determines that there is clear and convincing evidence supporting the allegations in the complaint one of several things will happen:

  • The matter may be referred to CSLB-sponsored arbitration
  • A citation may be issued fining the contractor up to $5000 and requiring him or her to take specific remedial actions
  • An accusation against the contractor may be filed
  • Criminal charges may be filed or
  • A petition for an injunction may be filed requiring the contractor to take a specific action or refrain from taking a specific action.

If an accusation is filed, the CSLB will seek to suspend or revoke the contractor’s license. The matter will proceed to a hearing before an administrative law judge, or ALJ, employed by the California Office of Administrative Hearings. This hearing is similar to a trial, with the CSLB needing to prove it’s case by clear and convincing evidence. Both parties are allowed to discover documents and witnesses before the hearing and present evidence in their favor at the hearing.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the ALJ will take the matter under advisement and issue a proposed decision within 30 days. Take note of the term “proposed decision.” The decision proposed by the ALJ is not binding on the CSLB. They can choose to accept the decision, in part or whole, or reject the decision and substitute one of their own. If the contractor disagrees with the decision made by the CSLB, he or she can make an appeal to the California civil court system. However, the court will not hear further evidence or review the evidence already of record. It will only review the case for errors in the application of the relevant law.

Discipline Triggered By a Criminal Conviction

The CSLB will seek to discipline a contractor who has been convicted of a crime that is considered substantially related to the qualification, functions, or duties of a contractor. Both the CSLB and the courts have a broad interpretation of what types of crimes are “substantially related.” In general, any misdemeanor or felony involving driving while under the influence, physical violence, fraud, theft, or dishonesty will all be enough to trigger disciplinary action, even if the crime had nothing to do with the contractor’s business.

California’s contractor licensing laws are some of the strictest in the country. If your license is suspended or revoked, you will be unable to legally work and earn a living. If you have been contacted by an investigator from the CSLB, or have received notice of an accusation, you need to take proactive steps to protect your license and your livelihood. California contractor’s license defense attorney Joe Hougnon can give you the aggressive representation that you need to keep your license and keep working.

Joe Hougnon, Esq.

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