Homeowners can protect themselves from shoddy repair jobs by checking contractors' backgrounds online.
Go to the California Contractors State License Board's Web site, at http://www.cslb.ca.gov, to check the license status of any of the state's more than 280,000 licensed contractors. The board's site also offers several tip sheets to help homeowners make the right choice when hiring a contractor.
Californians spend more than $10 billion on construction and remodeling every year, said Tracey Weatherby, chief of public affairs for the board.
"Most people's greatest asset is their home. When they are doing a remodeling project on their home, it's expensive and it's disruptive. So, we want to make sure that they are protected," Weatherby said.
The board's tip sheets provide advice to homeowners on subjects from finding and evaluating contractors to putting together a contract. You'll find these pages, as well as other resources, listed under the "Homeowner Information" header on the site's front page.
"We always urge consumers to get at least three bids, to ask for references and to check the contractor's license," Weatherby said. A license check will reveal not only whether a contractor has a license but also whether the state has taken any disciplinary action against it.
"If there has been a problem, perhaps that might serve as a red flag to consumers that perhaps they might want to go with one of the other bids," Weatherby said.
To get information about a contractor's license, click on the License Status Check icon on the board's home page. That will bring up another page, where homeowners can search for a contractor by license number.
To search by a contractor's name, or the name of an individual employed by a contractor, click on the Contractor Name Request or Personnel Name Request links on the left side of the search page.
Once you've submitted a name, you'll get a results page with matching contractors' license numbers and license status. To get more information, click on the license number next to the contractor you want to check. That will bring up a detail page with the contractor's address and phone number, as well as any disciplinary actions against the contractor.
The detail page also includes information about the contractor's certifications and insurance coverage. Weatherby noted that contractors working on home improvements must hold a home-improvement certification, so consumers should be sure to check for that.
Finally, consumers should note the information about the contractor's bond and workers' compensation coverage.
"If they don't have workers' compensation insurance, the homeowner could be liable for employees injured on the job," Weatherby said. The detail page will note policy numbers and insurers if the contractor is covered.
Even after doing a background check, if something goes wrong with a job, homeowners can use the board's site to find out how to file a formal complaint against a contractor. Just click the Filing Construction Complaints link under "Homeowner's Information" on the board's home page.
"One of our objectives, obviously, is to educate consumers about what they can do to protect themselves when they are hiring a contractor," Weatherby said. "And the information on our Web site provides them some pretty good weapons for making sure that they get a reputable contractor."
Robert Niles is a producer for Latimes.com.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
A 10-part series on finding truly useful information online:
1. Beach ratings
3. Unclaimed property
4. Campaign contributions
6. Crime reports
7. Dentists and hygienists
8. School test scores
9. Birth and death records
10. Today: Contractors
Read installments online at www.latimes.com/findit