If you have been engaged in a home improvement project, you may find that your contractor has violated your contract. Perhaps the materials specified were not used. Or, there were major delays even though you specified timeliness as a factor in the contract. You may turn to the California Contractor State License Board for some assistance.  There are dispute resolution resources available through the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB).

The first step is filing a written complaint with the CSLB. At that point, they will determine if your complaint falls within the CSLB’s jurisdiction and, assuming it does, send a notice to your contractor that a complaint has been filed. This notice will encourage the contractor to resolve the dispute without further action from the CSLB.

Mediation

If your contractor doesn’t agree to resolve the dispute, it will next go to mediation. This is an alternative dispute resolution process where a neutral third party helps you and your contractor communicate your issues effectively and see if you can come up with a resolution you both can live with. A consumer services representative (CSR) from the CSLngB will contact you about mediating the dispute.

If mediation is unsuccessful, the CSR will present you with one or more of several dispute resolution options. For example, the CSR may refer you to an additional dispute resolution service, such as one of the CSLB’s arbitration programs. Or, the CSR might determine that your complaint requires further investigation to determine whether the contractor has violated Contractors State License Law.

Warning letter

Another option if mediation was unsuccessful is for the CSLB to issue a warning letter to the contractor and take no further action at this time. This may be done if the contractor’s actions were not egregious and there is no history reflecting a pattern of violations. This warning letter becomes part of the contractor’s permanent record and can be used to support future disciplinary action, if necessary.

Arbitration

The CSLB administers different arbitration programs based on the allegations of damage. If you are alleging $12,500 in damages or less, your case may be sent to mandatory arbitration. This is a bit like a trial, but with more flexible rules of evidence and held before an arbitrator instead of a judge.

If you are alleging between $12,500 and $50,000, the CSLB administers a voluntary arbitration program. CSLB staff will determine whether your dispute meets the criteria for these programs.

Disciplinary action

If your complaint alleges violations of the law, the CSLB may investigate and consider disciplinary action. This could result in a citation, which could carry a civil penalty of up to $5,000. Or, the CSLB could order corrections to your project, requiring the contractor to perform or pay for these corrections. Or, charges could be filed that could lead to either suspension or revocation of the contractor’s license.

Small claims court

Nothing the CSLB does can guarantee you will receive restitution for your losses. If this is your goal, you should contact an attorney and/or pursue the issue in small claims court.

If you prevail in either arbitration or small claims court, you should notify the CSLB and send it a copy of the case disposition. At that point, the CSLB will remind the contractor that, if the judgment or award is not satisfied, their license will be suspended.