Contracting Without a License Laws in California



Put your hands behind your back, Mr. Handyman; click. Yes, every year hundreds of self-styled handymen doing odd jobs get arrested for contracting without a license. It’s a criminal charge with the potential sentence of incarceration in county jail, or in more serious cases, state prison.

In the State of California, no person may perform any construction services billed over $500, whether those services are handyman fix-it types of services or building a house. These laws apply not only to the unlicensed but even if you are licensed for one classification (for example, masonry) but bid a job over $500 in another classification (for example, a roof repair).

In most cases, contracting without a state license is a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. A conviction also carries administrative fines up to $15,000. Busted again for contracting without a license and the punishment is a mandatory 90 days in jail plus fines.

It becomes a felony if you use someone else’s contractor license when bidding a job or if you try to falsely represent to the consumer that you have a contractor license. If you are using a contractor license number without the knowledge of the actual contractor, you can also be charged with identity theft and fraud. Conviction on this felony could land you in state prison.

State authorities often conduct stings to catch unlicensed contractors. One typical sting involves soliciting bids for construction or handyman work and then arresting every unlicensed person who puts in a bid over $500 (which all will be because of the nature of the work for which the bid is made). One recent sting using this tactic in Chula Vista netted 17 unlicensed contractors when authorities posed as a homeowner taking bids for help on a home improvement project.

Another sting tactic is for authorities to pursue Craigslist or advertisements in free local newspapers for persons advertising as handymen, painters, and so on. Authorities then call these persons and get a bid for work they know will be over $500. These persons may be also charged with illegal advertising, a misdemeanor, if they did not state on their ad that they are unlicensed. State law requires any unlicensed person who is advertising for service that requires a contractor license to state they are unlicensed. This applies even if they are limiting themselves to jobs under $500.

In addition to the criminal charges and punishments, an unlicensed contractor who completes a job over $500 has no legal recourse if he or she did get paid by the consumer. In other words, the unlicensed contractor can do all the work and the consumer, whether he or she knew when contracting the job or found out later that the person was unlicensed, can refuse to pay and the unlicensed contractor cannot do a thing about it.

While most of the time, the unlicensed contractor who gets caught will just end up with a citation and a fine, more serious charges are a risk, especially when the unlicensed contractor is a repeat offender or fraudulently misleads the consumer. Very serious charges can result if the consumer is over 65 years of age and the prosecution determines that the unlicensed contractor financially abused the elder.

Criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available to consult with you regarding any criminal matter. You can reach him at his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or email him at