To operate as a contractor within the state of California, an individual must have received a license from the Contractors State License Board. State legislature requires licenses to operate as a contractor so that the public may be protected from unsafe and unscrupulous contractors. California Business & Professions Code Section 7028 BPC makes it illegal to contract any work without an official license.
To convict an individual of this charge, a prosecutor must prove the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant acted as a contractor or otherwise engaged in contractor-related business without an official license
- The defendant was not an individual who was exempt from obtaining or holding a valid license
The statute defines “contractor” as a synonymous profession with “builder”. It refers to any individual who, either on their own or with the help of others, constructs, repairs, alters, adds to, subtracts from, or improves any building, excavation, project, structure, improvement, or development.
Examples of the Crime
A man is contracted to provide labor and necessary materials for the landscaping of a couple’s front yard. The front yard is part of real property that the couple owns. The contractor has agreed to remove debris and surface rocks from the yard, set down a fresh layer of topsoil, install headerboards, sow weed killer and conditioner, and plant grass. The contractor receives $1,000 for his work, but he never had a contractor’s license that was valid in the state of California. This individual could be prosecuted for contracting without a valid license. When the California Court of Appeals was given a similar case, they concluded that “contracting” has a broad enough definition to cover any of the previously described work.
A man’s neighbor asks him to help with the reparation of his retaining wall. The man agrees and considers this a small project. He charges his neighbor a mere $50 for the service, which includes both labor and the materials. However, the man does not have a valid contracting license. In this particular case, the man is not guilty of contracting without a valid license. The statute has a “small operations” exemption clause which states that individuals are not criminally liable if the total price of a contract was less than one hundred dollars.
Defenses for Contracting Without a Valid License
As previously mentioned, the statute has a “small operations” exemption. This states that if the total price of the contract was less than one hundred dollars, the contractor does not need to have a contractor’s license to complete the operation. Note that this price must cover labor, material, and any other costs; it is not just the cost of the labor. If the defendant’s contract cost less than one hundred dollars, this exemption applies, and the defendant is not guilty.
If a person completes contracting activities in the employ of a licensed contractor, regardless of whether they have a license themselves, they would not be prosecuted. However, they must be able to prove that they are employed by and working under the direction of a licensed contractor.
Penalties for Contracting Without a Valid License
In the state of California, engaging in contracting work without a valid license is considered a misdemeanor offense. If an individual is convicted of this offense, they might be sentenced to up to one year in jail. If the individual has already been convicted of this offense, and this is a repeat offense, the court will fine them for 20% of the overall contract price or for $4500, whichever amount is higher. The defendant must also serve at least ninety days in jail. In unusual circumstances, such as when justice would be served by a lesser jail sentence, this stipulation might be overturned.
If the defendant based their contract around the furnishing of labor and materials through an hourly rate rather than an overall price, the price used to calculate fines will be the sum of both the cost of labor and the materials already provided. Also added to the total will be the cost of the work that has not yet been completed.
There are other offenses that an individual may find themselves charged with either in addition to a Section 7028 violation or in lieu of a Section 7028 violation. The most commonly related offense to a Section 7028 violation is:
- Fraudulent Use of a Contractor’s License Number
Individuals can be charged with this offense if they present another contractor’s license number and claim it is their own. They can also be charged with this offense if they present an outdated license number and claim that it’s current. This charge may be used concurrently with the Section 7028 violation.