California Labor Law: Contractor License Requirement

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In California, if a person wants to bid on big construction projects, she must have a contractor license. This rule applies to bids on all types of construction including commercial, residential and public works construction. The requirements to obtain a contractor license in California include passing two examinations and proof of recent experience in a specialty.

Who Needs a Contractor License in California?

The California State Licensing Board (CSLB) is the agency in charge of contractor licenses in the state. The CSLB doesn't just license one type of contractor; they offer 43 different classifications of licensing. These range from general contractors to specialty contractors (including many familiar types of contractors like electricians, plumbers, roofers and swimming pool contractors).

No matter the specialty, a contractor must have a license to bid on a job that exceeds $500. Only a contractor with a license in a specialty can bid on a job in that specialty. For example, a plumbing contractor cannot bid on an electrical or landscaping job. Even a general contractor must hold a specialty license before bidding a specialty job.

Difference Between a General and Specialty Contractor

California licenses two types of general building contractors and general engineering contractors. These general contractors can bid on specialty jobs if they hold that particular specialty license, but in general, their role is to oversee projects.

They are most often hired to coordinate work when two or more specialty contractors are required for the job. For example, if a person wanted a new bathroom, a general business contractor could organize the specific licensed subcontractors including the plumber and electrician.

A person would hire a specialty contractor rather than a general contractor when he only wants to get a single job done. For example, if the person wanted his plumbing redone or his electricity updated, he could simply hire the appropriate specialty contractor.

Taking the Contractor License Exam

A candidate gets an application from the California Contractors State License Board by calling 1-800-321-2752. That's also where the schedule for exams is posted. To become a licensed contractor, a candidate is required to pass two examinations: the business and law exam and a specialty trade exam.

If a candidate has passed either or both of these exams within the past five years, or if she held a license in that period, the exam requirement is waived for that individual. To qualify to take the exam, a person must be 18 years old or older with at least four years experience in construction and proof of that experience.

What Else Is Required for a Contractor License?

To obtain a contractor license, the candidate must have a Social Security Number, not owe back child support and pass a background check including "Live Scan" fingerprint testing. She must not have any outstanding arrest warrants or an extensive criminal record.

After passing the tests, she must fulfill her financial responsibilities. She must get bonded through an insurance company in the amount mandated (currently $15,000), obtain workers' compensation insurance if she is going to have payroll employees and pay required state fees. The fees are currently $330 for an application for an original license, $60 for a contractor applying for an additional classification license and a $180 bi-yearly fee to keep an active license.

How to Check a Contractor's License in California

Anyone about to hire a contractor should be take the time to check that the person's contractor license is valid and that he is in good standing. It is easy enough to do this online by going to the California CSLB website and clicking on the Consumers/Check a License link. Just enter the number; it never includes letters and never exceeds the digits in the space provided. The site will provide information about the person holding the license including complaints against them.