Rushing to beat a Dec. 31 amnesty period deadline, an estimated 36,000 to 38,000 construction-trades workers applied for state contractor's licenses to the Contractors State License Board.
Experience they gained as illegal contractors will be counted toward fulfilling the requirements for a license, as long as the prospective contractor meets other requirements and passes a daylong multiple-choice examination, according to Bob Berrigan, the board's licensing deputy in Sacramento.
He said the counters of the board's Sacramento office were "mobbed," adding that the licensing process is centralized in the board's Sacramento office.
"We have about 210,000 licensed contractors in California--165,000 active and 45,000 inactive," Berrigan said. "We probably have a quarter of a million unlicensed contractors, so the amnesty program has the potential of legalizing more than 15% of them."
His estimate on the number of unlicensed contractors is probably more of a guess, he admitted, adding that no one actually knows--or can determine, for that matter--how many unlicensed contractors are working in California.
Although the number of unlicensed contractors who applied for licenses is below the 46,000 that was estimated in December, 1986--just before the amnesty program went into effect, Berrigan termed the program a success.
"I knew a lot of people would wait until the deadline to send in their amnesty applications, but I didn't realize that so many procrastinators would wait until the last minute," he said, describing the rush of the last couple of weeks.
The 36,000 to 38,000 "amnesty" applications are in addition to the 18,000 applications the licensing board normally handles in a year, he said.
Under the amnesty law, which became effective Jan. 1, 1987, building trades workers were allowed 12 months in which to show self-employment as experience--regardless of their unlicensed status.
Applicants for a contractor's license have to document four years of experience working for a licensed contractor. If the applicant is a college graduate, only two years of experience are required.
Work for Less
Unlicensed contractors often work for less money than their licensed brethren, but they lack the protection of the license law from unscrupulous clients, according to a spokesman for the license board.
A licensed contractor can slap a mechanic's lien on a customer who doesn't pay, but an unlicensed contractor has absolutely no standing in court, the spokesman said.
A homeowner using an unlicensed contractor for an addition or a repair similarly has no protection from the state license board, the spokesman said.
Berrigan said that the list of licensed contractors is computerized, allowing a prospective customer to verify the license status of a contractor with a telephone call to the board in Sacramento.
Al B. Conahan, president of the Van Nuys-based Conahan Group, would like to see the amnesty extended to legalize more unlicensed contractors. He was one of the pioneers in the contractors licensing schools industry with a firm founded in 1969.
"Unlicensed contractors," he said in an interview. "were here before the license law was passed and will be around after all the amnesty programs are ancient history. It's a good idea to extend the amnesty period, with extensive publicity, to bring in as many illegal contractors."