California toughens criminalization for unlicensed contractors

If you hire some consenting but unlicensed neighbor for a not-very-big repair or construction job in California, there’s now a greater chance he or she will be headed for jail, no matter how happy you may be with the quality of the work. Gov. Jerry Brown has signed S.B. 315 (text, progress, promotional fact sheet), described by its sponsor, Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Beverly Hills), as a measure “to help curb California’s underground economy.” The measure would step up penalties and enforcement against persons who advertise for, or perform, repair and construction work with a value of $500 or more, counting parts and material as well as labor. (By its terms, the bill appears to apply to someone who offers to do a $500 job for your office that consists of procuring a $400 item and adding $100 for the labor of installing it.) First offenses are subject to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine, and subsequent offenses are treated yet more harshly.

There’s more. The bill, according to its legislative summary, “would additionally require that the enforcement division, when participating in the activities of the Joint Enforcement Strike Force on the Underground Economy, be granted free access to all places of labor,” at least in business locations. (Yes, “all”; you only thought your property was private.) And although the literature on the bill refers repeatedly to the need to curb “cheating” contractors, the penalties apply no matter how satisfied you may be with the contractor’s work.

That’s because protecting customers isn’t actually the point. Such is the political grip of occupational licensure lobbies that the bill passed unanimously in both houses of the California legislature with support from licensed repair and construction contractors. Lieu: “Groups supporting SB 315 are: Contractors State License Board (sponsor); Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Contractors Association; Air Conditioning Sheet Metal Association; American Subcontractors Association, California Inc.; California Chapters of the National Electrical Contractors Association; California Landscape Contractors Association; California Legislative Conference of the Plumbing, Heating and Piping Industry; California Professional Association of Specialty Contractors; United Contractors.”

In short, this is the sort of thing the California legislature does when it wants to think of itself as pro-business: it extends criminal liability for doing business in any other than the authorized way.

More: I’ve got some further thoughts at Cato at Liberty: “The costs of occupational licensure are many. Not least is that it gives established businesses a stake in making government more powerful and invasive.” And am I the only one who interprets the bill as aimed at Craigslist and at sharing-economy interfaces that match odd jobs with persons willing to do them, even if it is not announced as such? More on the law from Steven Greenhut (who was on the story before I was).


  • […] Rebecca Parr, Daily Review/San Jose Mercury News] More: I mention this episode, along with the one linked below about a California law combating off-books contractors, in a new Cato post about how licensed and […]

  • Is immigration-law enforcement important to you?

    Because this is about immigration-law enforcement, and it’s about occupational licensure only as a side effect (if it’s an effect at all).

  • Because this is about immigration-law enforcement, and it’s about occupational licensure only as a side effect (if it’s an effect at all).

    I must be denser than you, because I don’t comprehend how this law is about immigration, legal or illegal.

    Occupational licensure, along with money, is the mother’s milk of every Democrat in CA, and every Republican too. The state legislature can never think of enough things to regulate, and enough ways to collect money.

    What this law will do is make the self-employed handyman you once could hire to patch some stucco or make other minor repairs completely illegal. Now you’ll have to hire a licensed contractor, complete with overhead and reporting compliance costs.

    Next up on the legislative agenda: illegal and unlicensed light bulb changing and garden hose washer replacement. I kid, but not much.

  • Geez, it is a wonder that these laws don’t apply to people who are DIY oriented.

    At what point will I be banned from painting my walls or refinishing a desk or installing shelving or building planter boxes? (just some of my home projects this year)

  • I believe this is about putting value back into the trades.
    This is totally about licensure and if this law happens to affect unlicensed non US citizens illegally contracting within a trade that requires a license, then, that’s the law. Let them take the risk.
    Maybe it should be taken a step further and target the consumer with fines as well.
    (Because after all this under ground construction economy would dry up if the consumer was at risk for jail and fines for hiring unlicensed contractors for $500 +)
    These unlicensed contractors (immigrants or US born citizens) are killing small licensed general contractors and subs.
    The small jobs (10k and under) are gone. They’re given to the guy desperate enough to bid it for wages, while the homeowner brags to their friends about how cheap they had their bathroom tile installed.
    Someone above spoke about overhead… God forbid a licensed contractor has overhead for things like liability insurance, a bond and workers comp. all of which are put in place to protect the homeowner from things like smoldering painter rags burning your house down or a nicked pipe flooding your hardwood floors.
    And I doubt this means agents will be busting your door down if you (the homeowner) decide to change a light fixture, planter box or toilet, besides, that’s what licensed handymen and women are for.