The California Contractors State License Board will be out in force next Tuesday in an effort to prevent phony contractors from scamming those who lost homes in the Jesusita Fire.
According to the CSLB, victims of disasters are especially vulnerable to fraudulent housing and construction contractors. In order to prevent these incidents, the CSLB will coordinate with local law enforcement agencies to put up warning signs, speak with residents and conduct sting operations to expose deceptive contractors.
According to Rick Lopes of the CSLB, the board canvasses disaster areas in order to prevent the exploitation of victimized homeowners. With as many as 78 homes destroyed by the Jesusita Fire, the CSLB fears Santa Barbara residents are at risk of falling prey to phony contractors.
“The first thing that we do after a disaster is we go through and we do a big educational campaign,” Lopes said. “Starting early next week, we’re actually going to have people walking through the neighborhoods posting warning signs in the area.”
Any builders or repairmen who work or agree to work without a valid California license are considered “fraudulent contractors.” Performing contracting work without a valid California contractor’s license in a disaster area is a felony offense. State laws also require that general contractors maintain liability insurance and bonds to guarantee the completion of work contracts.
However, unlicensed contractors can easily scam victims by abandoning their work or causing damage to people and property, leaving homeowners vulnerable to lawsuits.
According to Lopes, people with damaged homes are often unprepared to deal with repairs and can find themselves rushed into a faulty contract.
“It’s a crime of opportunity in many cases,” Lopes said. “Chances are they haven’t prepared [to sign a construction contract,] … you kind of get thrown into this by being a disaster victim.”
In addition to warning homeowners against fraud, the CSLB will begin conducting sting operations to catch phony contractors. CSLB officials took similar steps in the aftermath of the Tea Fire, resulting in the arrest of several fraudulent contractors last February.