Qualified and Effective License Defense Before the Contractors
State License Board
Protecting Your License and Livelihood from CSLB Disciplinary Action
The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is tasked with licensing and disciplining all building and home improvement contractors within the State of California. Under the Board’s authority, licensed contractors are subject to some of the most intense scrutiny of any professional licensee. The purpose of the CSLB is to protect the public from unscrupulous or incompetent contractors and the agency fulfills this goal by investigating public complaints and making disciplinary actions available to the public on the CSLB website.
It is a common misconception that the function of the CSLB is to help contractors. Instead, the purpose of the CSLB is to protect the public. When the CSLB investigates a contractor, an adversarial relationship is created in which the contractor must actively defend his or her conduct before the Board investigator or attorney. If you believe a complaint has been or may be filed, it is important that you obtain experienced and effective legal advice from Gould & Hahn. The best time to resolve a complaint with a customer is before it is filed. The attorneys at Gould & Hahn are experienced in proactively resolving customer disputes before CSLB issues arise.
Customer Complaints and CSLB Investigations
While anyone may file a complaint against a contractor, the most common sources include homeowners, companies within the construction industry, subcontractors, and competitors. Because of the numerous complaints received, the CSLB employs a large network of investigators who are responsible for thoroughly investigating complaints. A complaint may be filed with the CSLB up to four years from the date of the alleged violation. This lengthy period places the contractor at a severe disadvantage, as the original work may have been altered, leaving the contractor with little or no visual record of his or her original work.
The CSLB has the authority to resolve a complaint investigation by closing the complaint with no findings against the contractor, by issuing a citation and fine, or by filing an Accusation to revoke the contractor’s license. The citations and Accusations become a part of the contractor’s CSLB public file and are published on the Board’s website and available for review by the public, future customers, and competitors. The citation and/or Accusation contain all of the unproven allegations against the contractor. These public documents can have a devastating effect on a contractor’s business. At Gould & Hahn, we understand the profound importance of a contractor’s reputation and the severely negative effects a wrongfully issued citation or Accusation may have on your business.
The sequence of events that arise from the filing of a complaint with the CSLB is illustrated in detail in our chart of the Enforcement Process. This chart can be very useful for understanding the procedures by which a complaint moves through the disciplinary process – from investigation, to a citation or Accusation, to settlement, or an administrative hearing.
Online Public Disciplinary Records
Contractors, unlike many other licensed professionals, are often in direct competition with other contractors when bidding on a job. It is common practice for homeowners and future clients to review all of the information about a contractor online in the CSLB’s public record system, to determine the contractor’s license status and disciplinary history. The presence of a citation or Accusation history can result in the loss of potential business opportunities. If your license is under CSLB investigation, contact the experienced legal professionals at Gould & Hahn as soon as possible. We have represented contractors in a variety of situations since 1995 including citation appeals, license revocation actions, and license application denials, and we are prepared to put our experience to work for you. Contact us to discuss how we can most efficiently and effectively help you protect your license and reputation.
Board Issued Citations
When CSLB investigators believe a contactor has violated a law or regulation, the CSLB may issue a citation. Citations become a part of a contractor’s public file and include, but are not limited to, allegations of:
- Contract form violations;
- Workers’ compensation violations;
- Aiding and abetting an unlicensed contractor;
- Down payment violations;
- Failure to complete the project for the contract price; and/or
- Departure from trade standards.
In addition to damaging a contractor’s reputation, citations include costly monetary penalties. The Board may also order the contractor to pay substantial restitution costs to the customer, which in some cases can total thousands of dollars. Licensed contractors have the right to appeal CSLB citations and proceed to a hearing before an administrative law judge where they can provide their own evidence disputing the claim.
Gould & Hahn can assist you in filing your appeal and negotiating a resolution of the citation prior to hearing, and, if necessary, represent you in an administrative hearing. Gould & Hahn has the experience and determination to achieve the best possible outcome for your individual circumstances.
Accusation to Revoke or Suspend a License
If the CSLB concludes that a contractor has violated the law, does substandard work, or otherwise represents a threat to the public, it will file an Accusation to suspend or revoke the contractor’s license. If you receive an Accusation from the CSLB, it is important that you immediately obtain legal representation because you have only 15 days to file a Notice of Defense with the CSLB’s attorney indicating your intention to appeal and request a hearing. Failure to file the Notice of Defense could result in the loss of your license without any further notice. The attorneys that file the Accusations for the CSLB specialize in contracting law and are retained for the specific purpose of disciplining or revoking contractor licenses. If you receive an Accusation, it is absolutely critical that you immediately retain qualified legal counsel that is experienced in defending licensees before the CSLB. Contact Gould & Hahn for a free consultation to discuss your situation, learn what your rights are, and how we would defend your license.
Common allegations that lead to the filing of an Accusation include:
- Departure from trade standards;
- Breach of contract;
- Fraud or misrepresentation; and/or
- Criminal convictions.
If the contractor responds to the Accusation within 15 days, he or she is entitled to an administrative hearing. Once the CSLB receives the Notice of Defense, it will send a notice to the Office of Administrative Hearings asking that the case be set for hearing. Depending on the projected length of the hearing, the case will be scheduled to be heard one or more months from the receipt of the Notice of Defense.
Along with the Accusation, the contractor will also receive a Request for Discovery. Both the CSLB and contractor are required to submit discovery to the other party. Discovery includes all evidence that is relevant to the charges contained in the Accusation. When you retain Gould & Hahn, your attorney will obtain discovery from the CSLB that includes the CSLB’s investigative and expert reports, witness statements, video and audio documentation, and any other available evidence the CSLB intends to present at the hearing to prove the charges.
During this period, your attorney will have an opportunity to negotiate with the CSLB’s attorney a settlement of your case in an effort to avoid the emotional and financial expense of a contested administrative hearing. The CSLB has the authority to settle cases before hearing and many cases are resolved during the settlement process. Gould & Hahn will work closely with you during this time to develop documents and witnesses that rebut the allegations in the Accusation and present the facts of your case that justify your right to a fair settlement.
If the CSLB refuses to offer settlement terms that are satisfactory, the case will proceed to a hearing. If the case is scheduled for four (4) or more days, the Office of Administrative Hearings will schedule a Settlement Conference and Prehearing Conference to be held a few weeks before the hearing. The Settlement Conference is held before a settlement administrative law judge (ALJ) who will separately review the facts of the case with the CSLB attorney and with your attorney in an effort to reach a settlement of the Accusation. If settlement is reached, it will be entered into the record and the case will be resolved.
If a settlement cannot be reached, the Prehearing Conference will be held before the ALJ presiding over the hearing. The purpose of the Prehearing Conference is to rule on all prehearing motions and to ensure that the parties have complied with the discovery requirements and are ready to proceed to hearing.
Proceeding to an Administrative Hearing
The hearing is held before an administrative law judge. There is no jury and the rules of evidence are less restrictive than in criminal or civil proceedings. At the hearing, the CSLB will present its case by submitting its investigative and expert reports and calling its witnesses. Your attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine the Board’s witnesses and object to the submission of irrelevant or improperly obtained evidence. Once the CSLB has completed its case, your attorney will present your evidence and testimony. If the CSLB calls an expert witness, it is critical that you also have an expert who can rebut the CSLB’s expert findings. When all evidence and testimony has been submitted into the record, the hearing is closed.
The ALJ has thirty (30) days to prepare a Proposed Decision and submit it to the CSLB for its consideration. The CSLB has one hundred (100) days to consider the Proposed Decision and:
- Adopt it as the CSLB’s final Decision and Order;
- Modify the Proposed Decision; or,
- Reject the Proposed Decision and write its own Decision.
If the CSLB fails to act within 100 days, the Proposed Decision is deemed adopted as the final Decision.
- Dismissal of the Accusation
- Issuance of a Letter of Public Reproval
- License is revoked, the revocation is stayed, and a probationary period imposed
- License is revoked, the revocation is stayed, the license is suspended and followed by a period of probation
- License is revoked
Determining whether to proceed to an administrative hearing is a significant decision that you must carefully consider in consultation with your licensing attorney. In administrative hearings, the ALJ does not have the final authority regarding the outcome of the case. Final authority rests solely with the CSLB. The ALJ will issue a Proposed Decision. This Proposed Decision is not binding on the Board, meaning, you could prevail at the hearing, and the CSLB could reject the ALJ’s Proposed Decision and issue its own decision disciplining your license. When evaluating whether to proceed to a hearing, it is essential that you consult with your attorney and understand the nature of a Proposed Decision and your options for appeal in the event that the Board rejects the administrative law judge’s Proposed Decision.
The CSLB has some of the most far-reaching authority of any licensing agency. It has the power to not only revoke your license, but also to prohibit any licensed contractor from employing you in any capacity. If you lose your license, you may also lose your ability to work in the building industry in any capacity. For that reason, if you receive an Accusation seeking the revocation of your license and you want to remain working in the industry, you need to obtain legal representation from attorneys who are familiar with the nuances and procedures of contractor’s licensing law.
Gould & Hahn has extensive experience aggressively representing contractors and a long history of successful representation at hearing. If you receive an Accusation, call Gould & Hahn immediately for a free consultation.
Denial of Application for a License
The CSLB may deny a license application if it believes the applicant has failed to meet the qualifications for licensure. Common grounds for denial include insufficient work experience, criminal convictions, and prior license discipline. If your license application has been denied, you have a limited amount of time to appeal and request an administrative hearing.
The license application process can be extremely stressful and protracted. You have invested a lot of time and money in preparing to be licensed. Gould & Hahn will guide you through this process and provide you with the confidence knowing you are being represented by experienced, compassionate, and knowledgeable counsel.