Yet Another Pointless Contractor Sting Operation In California

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) has announced that it had successfully busted 15 unlicensed contractors in a two-day sting operation in Concord, California. The announcement comes just ten days after they boasted that the Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) ensnared 79 home improvement contractors working without government permission in a “summer blitz.”

The investigators posed as home owners seeking “bids for painting, concrete, fencing, landscaping, HVAC, and tree work from suspects who were contacted through business cards, ads in online bulletin boards, including, and complaints filed with CSLB.” All contractors who showed up to the sting house were issued notices to appear (NTAs) in court for “contracting without a license,” a misdemeanor that could result in jail time and/or a heavy fine. Unlicensed contractors who are found through online advertisements were also charged with “illegal advertising.”

One contractor, who had been previously busted, was charged with resisting arrest for warning others about the sting.

The CSLB mandates that people offering to work on projects with a combined worth (including the cost of capital and labor) exceeding $500 get a government license. Licensing requirements for contractors in California have been cited by the Institute for Justice and the Reason Foundation as being particularly onerous in comparison to the rest of the country.

As I previously attempted to summarize concisely in an article on occupational licensing in California, the requirements for becoming a licensed contractor in California are as follows:

To apply for a contractor’s license, individuals must have more than $2,500 worth of operating capital (defined as assets minus liabilities), submit an application along with $300, as well as at least four years of experience. To meet this four-year requirement, individuals may take three years of schooling, followed by one year of work experience under the supervision of a CSLB-approved contractor. Once applicants meet this requirement, they must submit fingerprints for a background check. Applicants must disclose any criminal history, even if the record was sealed, expunged or reduced; failure to do this is grounds for being rejected at this stage. Applicants then must take two exams: a Law and Business examination, and an exam covering the specific classification being applied for…This is just the licensing part, and speaks to no other regulations, insurances, permits and certifications they may need.

Given the frequency of these sting operations, one would think that the CSLB is aggressively going after a significant source of harm to consumers. The problem with this idea is that the CSLB sting operations are primarily (if not entirely) aimed against those willing to work on home improvement projects. The idea that homeowners can’t decide for themselves who they voluntarily contract with on “painting, concrete, fencing, landscaping, HVAC, and tree work” projects without government meddling and petty sting operations flies against any recognizable notion of a free society.