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Before You Hire a Contractor

Check Out the License
By law, anyone in California who contracts for or bids on a construction project valued at $500 or more (total labor and materials) must be licensed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). To qualify for a license, a contractor must verify four years of journey-level experience in the trade, pass both a trade and license law examination, and post a license bond. Since 2005, all new contractors are required to pass a background investigation that includes a criminal background check. Contractors are required, by law, to put their CSLB license number in all advertisements. Unlicensed operators are required to say they are not state-licensed in their advertisements.

  • Ask to see the contractor’s plastic pocket license and photo identification.
  • Verify the license and make sure it is in good standing by visiting the CSLB website: or by calling CSLB’s toll-free automated line: 800.321.CSLB (2752).
  • Get at least three bids and ask for references on work the contractor has completed in the local area. View the contractor’s past projects in person.


Financial Information

  • Don’t pay in cash.
  • Stick to your schedule of payments and don’t let the payments get ahead of the completed work.
  • Contractors cannot ask for a deposit of more than 10% of the total cost of the job or $1,000, whichever is less.* (This goes for any home improvement project, including swimming pools.)


Get It in Writing

  • Make sure you have a written contract and don’t sign it until you fully understand the terms.
  • All changes to the contract, or “change orders,” need to be in writing and signed by both parties.
  • Keep a job file of all project papers and payments, and don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the job.
  • Homeowners waive their three-day right to cancel if they sign a “service and repair contract,” which is different from a standard “home improvement contract.” (Service and repair contracts are usually for emergency repairs where the consumer initiated the contact and cannot wait.)


License History
If you want information about a contractor’s license history and pending or prior disciplinary actions, please call the appropriate CSLB Legal Action Disclosure telephone number:

Northern Region: 916.255.4041
Southern Region: 562.345.7656


Complaint Forms
If you have a complaint against a contractor, free forms are available at or call 800.321.CSLB (2752) and ask for a copy of A Consumer Guide to Filing Construction Complaints and a complaint form.


*There is an exception to this rule for about two dozen contractors who have filed a blanket performance and payment bond with the Registrar. This information is noted on the contractor’s license detail page on CSLB’s website.


For more information, contact: 
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826-0026
800.321.CSLB (2752) •