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How do I sue an unlicensed contractor that does a bad job on my property and reported me to the city that I remodel w/o permit

San Jose, CA |

I did not know that he has no license as we have known him and trusted him to do job in our property since we first bought our house 15 years ago. I stopped him from doing more when I found out that he has no licensed. He charges me 120K in total and now I have to redo everything the right away and don't have anymore money to fix the problem, what should I do now? The city received the complaint and for our safety we have to fix lots of things, how can I get him to pay for all this?

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Attorney answers 4


California Business & Professions Code section 7031(b) gives consumers who have contracted with unlicensed contractors the ability to sue for restitution or reimbursement of all monies paid to the unlicensed contractor for "any act or contract. "

Given the amount of money at stake, you ought to hire a litigation attorney to handle this for you. Unfortunately, the chances that you will actually be able to collect from the unlicensed contractor is much smaller than from a licensed contractor.

if you have no money to pay for an attorney and/or to pay for the remedial work, you are probably out of luck.

The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice. This posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author (who is only admitted to practice law in the State of California). For specific advice about your particular situation, consult your own attorney.


Disclaimer: The materials provided below are informational and should not be relied upon as legal advice.

Attorney Chen is correct. Under California law, a person who is not licensed as a contractor is not entitled to compensation for work performed. You may be able to recover the moneys you already spent, and other damages for poor construction. Feel free to contact our office for a consultation.


The law allows you to recover back all money you paid him even if his work was perfect.

If the work was defective, the law also allows you to recover the cost of repair plus other damages.

This would require a lawsuit.

There is an article on our website on this topic (see link below), or you can call us if you have further questions.

George Wolff
(415)788-1881, ext 222

This is NOT legal advice, just a general discussion of the law, as we are not familiar with the specific documents and facts of your case, etc. Please consult with a competent attorney in this area of the law for specific legal advice regarding your particular case, as the advice may vary depending on the facts.


The prior answers are essentially correct. It does not even matter if the contractor started the job with a license and then lost it partway through. The contractor must be "duly licensed at all times while performing the contract." If the contractor wasn't properly licensed at all such times, they are not entitled to ANY compensation. Contractors have been found to be improperly licensed when they don't have the proper license for the work they contracted, they work outside the scope of their contract, when they have failed to carry workers' compensation insurance but employed workers, and if they have underreported their payroll, even if they had workers' compensation insurance. Not only is an unlicensed contractor not entitled to compensation but you can sue to recover all money already paid to him/her, including money that was earmarked for materials which the contractor purchased directly Additionally, you may be entitled to treble damages up to $10,000.00 and your attorneys' fees and costs, even if there was no attorneys' fees clause in your contract, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure 1029.8.

You can also report the contractor to the Contractors' State License Board which has an arbitration program (limited in amount) and which may take disciplinary action. It is also criminal activity to perform construction work without a license. In my experience, however, with the current economy and budget cutbacks the CSLB can be slow to act.

From a practical standpoint, an unlicensed contractor likely doesn't have the assets to satisfy a judgment and, thus, it may not be worth the expense to sue him/her. This is an important consideration if your main priority is completing the work on your house.

You might also consider a construction defect claim to any lawsuit as this may trigger the contractor's insurance and provide a source of revenue at least for any work that wasn't done properly.



If the contractor is not licensed it is likely the individual does not have any insurance. In fact, I have never come across an unlicensed contractor that DID have insurance, except for situations where the contractor held a license but it was for some reason temporarily not effective (there are several reasons this can happen). Contrary to some comments above I would recommend a complaint to the CSLB (Contractors State License Board). The Board takes unlicensed contracting seriously, especially when the party has been doing so for a long time, and when significant amounts of money are involved. Your description indicates both apply. The Board has legal authority to pursue the contractor and assist you in getting back any monies you paid. Additionally, the Board may refer matters to the Attorney General, who can pursue this as a criminal matter. You can also contact the Attorney General directly. If you can afford private counsel, make sure the attorney is well versed in construction law. Some attorneys will take cases on a contingency basis - but unless an initial financial/asset search shows the unlicensed person has adequate attachable assets, it is unlikely they would take the case on that basis. If you cannot afford an attorney there are a number of private agencies/organizations that might be able to assist. Some attorneys and law firms also do a certain amount of pro-bono work. Depending on the nature of the case and their annual resource commitment, you may be able to find a firm willing to assist for no fee, or a reduced fee. An inquiry to the California Bar Association may be helpful in pointing you to available resources on all these counts. THE ABOVE IS NOT INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE.

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