Home Improvements : Contractors to Probe Shoddy Work Claims

Times Staff Writer

Having home improvement contractors inspect the work of their peers might seem to be a case of the fox guarding the chickens.

An experimental, statewide program, under way now, is designed to do just that and is expected to alleviate a massive backlog of workmanship complaints.

"We've signed up about 800 licensed contractors now conducting inspections involving poor workmanship," said Bob Christensen, staff deputy of the Contractors State License Board board. "The board pays a standard fee of $100 plus certain expenses for each inspection.

"When the board receives a complaint alleging poor workmanship, it will be referred to a licensed contractor with the most appropriate trade expertise to inspect the project."

File Written Reports

The contractor conducting the peer review inspection will have one or two tasks:

To determine if the project was completed to industry standards and, if the project doesn't meet industry standards, how much would it cost to correct.

Christensen said that the inspecting contractor puts his or her findings in a written report that is submitted to one of 14 board field offices around the state. The field office completes the rest of the investigation and, if necessary, takes action against the contractor responsible for the substandard work, he added.

C.L. (Cy) Kelly, deputy registrar in the board's Van Nuys field office at 6150 Van Nuys Blvd., said that about 125 contractors in his jurisdiction have joined the industry expert program. His territory consists of Los Angeles County north of Mulholland Drive, including the San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys.

Favorable Response

"The response from the home improvement industry has been very favorable, something that is hardly surprising since the industry has been calling for a program like this for a long time," Kelly said. "The only contractors against it are the repeat violators."

Mike Camplin, supervising deputy in the Van Nuys field office, said that most homeowners agree with the decision of the industry expert on the quality of workmanship.

"This program doesn't eliminate the backlog of complaints in our office, currently at 1,000, because it doesn't address problems such as abandonment or unlicensed contractors," Camplin said, stressing that the program takes some of the burden off the deputies. Each deputy currently has a caseload of about 60 complaints, he added.

Christensen said that last year the Contractors State License Board, a unit of the state Department of Consumer Affairs, logged in 20,000 consumer complaints.

Program to Be Reviewed

"We have only 88 deputies investigating more than 200,000 licensed contractors, and we have close to 12,000 complaints in our statewide backlog," he added.

The industry expert program's progress will be reviewed next March, Christensen said, adding that it could be continued or terminated but the pioneering program will run through next June 30. Legislation establishing the program became effective last July.

"We're looking for the widest variety of licensed contractors to take part in this program: retired, active, women, men and minorities," he added.

License board field offices are listed in telephone directory white pages under the "State Government Offices" category at the front of the book.

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