Q: We had work done on the windows at our house, including replacement of several. We did not get what we expected. One of the windows is not even the right fit. The guy who did the work has demanded payment, and said he will put a lien on our house if we don't pay him in full. Are we stuck? We just checked and he is not a licensed contractor. He was referred to us by a neighbor.
- L.K., El Segundo
Answer: A contractor is defined under California Business & Professions Code Section 7026 as anyone who "submits a bid to, or does himself or herself or by or through others, construct, alter, repair, add to, subtract from, improve, move, wreck or demolish any building ... or other structure." Under Section 7031, an unlicensed contractor cannot sue to collect compensation for the performance of any act or contract where a license is required, regardless of the merits of the lawsuit. Let me emphasize the phrase "regardless of the merits."
In fact, you could bring a lawsuit against him to recover any money you have already paid for the performance of any act or contract for which a license is required. It is a misdemeanor for any person to engage in the capacity of a contractor in this state without having a valid contractor's license. Thus, I do not believe you are stuck paying if indeed he is not licensed. Instead, you can report him to the Contractors State License Board, if not local law enforcement. The work he did, based on your description, required a contractor's license.
Q: How can I find out if a company is a licensed contractor?
- R.W., Lakewood
A: You can ask for a license number, and seek to verify if it is current on the website of the California Contractors State License Board. Or you should be able to check the website by name. Go to www.cslb.ca.gov/. In the top left click "Consumers," and then on the next page, in the left margin, click "Check a License."
The board also has a form you can mail in requesting a certified license history, or a certification that the person (or company) is not licensed. On the board's website, type "forms" in the search box at the top right, and then clock on "Forms and Applications." Scroll down until you find the form for a certified license history, or a certification of no license. If there is a genuine reason to expedite the request, explain it in a cover letter.
Q: We are going to remodel our home. Just what is a mechanics lien, and is there any protection against it?
- M.S., Palos Verdes Peninsula
A: A mechanics lien is recorded against your real property, and typically represents an alleged unpaid debt owed to a contractor, subcontractor or someone who supplied materials to the project. If it remains unpaid, a foreclosure action could go forward on the lien. Further details about a mechanics lien, and ways to deal with it (as well as how to try to protect yourself) can be found on the website of the Contractors State License Board listed above; in the search box, type "mechanics liens."
Last week's column indicated lawyers in California are required to have malpractice insurance. Lawyers are not required to have such insurance, but those who don't must make that disclosure to potential clients.
Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 30 years of experience. His column appears on Wednesdays. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com or write to him at Ask The Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 21250 Hawthorne Blvd., Suite 170, Torrance, CA 90503. This column is a summary of the law and not a substitute for legal consultation on any particular case.