SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - San Diego consumers should be on alert as they try fixing El Niño storm damage on their homes. Unlicensed contractors are advertising cheap rates on sites like Craig's List, but they may actually be breaking the law.
CBS News 8 teamed up with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) last month for an undercover sting operation at a Tierrasanta home.
Members of the state agency posed as homeowners seeking bids to fix El Niño roof damage, replace fencing, and install backyard drains.
Investigators with CSLB's Statewide Investigative Fraud Team do undercover stings like this all over California with law enforcement backup provided by the CHP.
It's illegal for unlicensed contractors to bid on projects that cost more than $500. Once the illegal bid is given to the undercover agent, the bust is made.
Unlicensed workers are given a misdemeanor citation and encouraged to apply for a contractor's license.
"Our goal is not to put these people out of work. Our goal is to get them to get their license and to compete fairly because it's important for consumers to be protected by the laws," said CSLB Chief of Public Affairs, Rick Lopes.
A license guarantees a worker has at least four years of professional experience, insurance in case they get hurt on the job, and no felony convictions.
One of the 15 contractors cited in the two-day operation had a felony warrant for larceny out of Florida. He told the CSLB team that he accepted $9,700 for a job in Florida and never completed the work.
Licensing laws are designed to protect homeowners from fraud and shoddy work.
A typical contractor's license costs about $20 per month, according to Lopes. Insurance rates vary depending on the type of work, Lopes said.
One of the workers called out to the sting actually had a valid contractor's license and was operating legally.
Daniel Marion said he applauds the CSLB efforts, even though he mistakenly got caught up in the sting operation.
"It's hard to compete with these guys who don't have a license because they don't have to pay their workers comp, they usually don't pay their taxes, and they usually don't pay their contractors fees," said Marion, who has been a licensed contractor decades.
Many of the workers who do get citations know they're breaking the law.
In some cases, the citation may be dismissed once the worker obtains a valid contractor's license. Repeat offenders can face up to six months in jail.