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Home Improvement

Using Licensed Contractors

Stop Unlicensed Contractors


Home Improvement

What To Expect

     Design and construction projects involve several steps. Typically, projects go through the following six phases. However, on some projects several of these steps may be combined or there may be additional ones.

Programming / Deciding What to Build

     The homeowner and architect discuss the requirements for the project (how many rooms, the function of the spaces, etc.), testing the fit between the owner’s needs, wants and budget.

Schematic Design / Rough Sketches

     The architect prepares a series of rough sketches, known as schematic design, which show the general arrangement of rooms and of the site. Some architects also prepare models to help visualize the project. The homeowner approves these sketches before proceeding to the next phase.

Design Development/Refining the Design

     The architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design. Floor plans show all the rooms in correct size and shape. Outline specifications are prepared listing the major materials and room finishes.

Preparation of Construction Documents

     Once the homeowner has approved the design, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor will use to establish actual construction cost and build the project. These drawings and specifications become part of the building contract.

Hiring the Contractor

     The homeowner selects and hires the contractor. The architect may be willing to make some recommendations. In many cases, homeowners choose from among several contractors they have asked to submit bids on the job. The architect can help you prepare bidding documents as well as invitations to bid and instructions to bidders.

Construction Administration

     While the contractor will physically build the home or addition, the architect can assist the homeowner in making sure that the project is built according to the plans and specifications. The architect can make site visits to observe construction, review and approve the contractor’s applications for payment, and generally keep the homeowner the homeowner informed of the projects progress. The contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules and procedures.

Call on the Solano-Napa Builders Exchange for referrals of design professionals, contractors, material suppliers or construction consultants, 707-255-2515, or visit our website:

Ask The Right Questions BEFORE You Build!

     If you are considering remodeling, adding a room addition, or any kind of home project, the Solano-Napa Builders Exchange offers you these helpful hints for avoiding unnecessary problems.

     Plan ahead and know what it is you want done before contacting a contractor or architect. Consider your budget, the possibility of short-term disruption to your living environment, and the time frame in which you want the improvements completed. Beware of “door-to-door” solicitations trying to sell you something you don’t want or need.

     Be sure your contractor obtains the necessary building permits from your local jurisdiction. The permit will insure that your project is inspected by qualified building personnel; they will verify that your project is built to current building codes – this is for YOUR safety and protection.

     Once your approved plans are drawn, consider bringing them in to the Builders Exchange for competitive bids by SNBE members. (This process usually takes about a month. It insures that you will receive low bids that have been properly evaluated by contractors, subs, and suppliers).

     When selecting a contractor or sub-contractor, make sure you ask for references and verify that they are licensed by the State of California.

Most Importantly!

Be sure to use only licensed contractors

     You may be in violation of State and Federal law and subject to unlimited liability, withholding and social security taxes and disability and unemployment insurance if the people you have working on your property are unable to provide you with:

  • A current certificate of workers’ compensation insurance.
  • A valid California Contractor’s License.
  • A city Business License (in most cities).
  • An Employer’s Tax Identification Number.

     A licensed contractor provides these documents to you for your protection. In addition, licensed contractors are required to have on file with the Contractors State License Board a $7,500 bond. This is further protection for you during and after the construction of your home improvement project.

Jurisdiction Building Dept. Planning Dept.
Napa County 253-4417 253-4416
American Canyon 647-4360 647-4336
Calistoga 942-2827 942-2827
City of Napa 257-9540 257-9530
City of St. Helena 968-2657 968-2659
Town of Yountville 944-8851 944-8851
Solano County 784-6765 784-6765
City of Benicia 746-4230 746-4280
City of Dixon 678-7000 678-7000
City of Fairfield 428-7451 428-7461
City of Rio Vista 374-2205 374-2205
City of Suisun 421-7310 421-7335
City of Vacaville 449-5152 449-5140
City of Vallejo 648-4374 648-4326


     City and County building and zoning enforcement programs are designed to protect public health and safety, to maintain sound property values for all, and to improve the visual image of the community. These programs are not designed or administered to be selective against any one individual, group or business.

     If you have recently received a “Notice of Violation” it should be noted that the City or County government is presumably not asking you to do more than the law requires. You are simply being asked to abide by the rules and regulations designed for us all so we can maintain a stable and attractive community. Abiding by these rules can also protect your property and help you avoid potentially damaging legal and financial difficulties in the future.

     The following are some of the most typically asked questions and answers about building and zoning enforcement programs. For more information contact your local building and planning department.

1. Why me? Am I being singled out?

     No one is being “singled out” from anyone else. In all likelihood, you received a notice because:
  • The City/County received a complaint from a nearby property owner, tenant or other local individuals; or
  • The matter was referred to the City/County building or planning department from another public agency such as the Health or Fire Department; or
  • You may be within a geographic area currently under investigation.

2. Why not the other guy?

     The City/County building and planning departments are not normally notified of all code violations that exist in each of the jurisdictions. As violations are reported, they are investigated and steps are taken to resolve the problem.

     The code enforcement program is jurisdiction wide and all complaints are treated equally in all cases.

3. What will happen next?

     The City/County is interested in voluntary compliance to resolve all building and zoning code violations and will attempt to work out a solution with you through on-site meetings, office conferences or correspondence. If these do not resolve the issues then:
  • A citation may be issued or
  • Your case may be scheduled for an abatement hearing before a Hearing Officer or other decision-making individual or body.

     The Hearing Officer or body will conduct an abatement hearing to ensure fundamental fairness to all parties concerned and to render a decision in regard to the City-County Building and/or Zoning Ordinances. In the hearing, you will be given an opportunity to show why, in your opinion, your use of the subject property is not in violation of the City/County codes. If you or any other party is not satisfied with the decision of the Hearing Officer or body, an appeal may be made to a higher level, often to your elected representatives (i.e. City Council or Board of Supervisors).

4. What happens if the decision making individual and/or body determines that my property is in violation of the City/County building or zoning ordinances?

     If it is determined that a violation exists, you will receive a written decision that the illegal use's) be abated within a certain time. In addition, all costs incurred by the City/County for this process may become a lien against the subject property and also assessed against the property in the same manner as taxes. Once the violation has been abated (corrected) and the costs paid, the abatement lien will be released.

     Remember, the City/County’s primary concern is to work with the property owner/occupant to resolve building and zoning violations. The citation process and abatement hearing process are only necessary if all other reasonable efforts fail.

     Abatement orders and/or liens against your property can have severe adverse impacts on you and your property. Property sale, refinancing and desired use or building permits can be delayed or denied if your property has code violations.

     Don’t damage your right to use and enjoy your property—comply with applicable building and zoning codes and get the necessary permits before you build.



     Everyone knows that a high rise office complex needs a building permit and that some public approval (use permit) is required for industrial plants or other “disturbing” neighbors. Did you know, however, that a building permit may also be required for your backyard tool shed or patio sunshade? Or you may need to get a permit for a Home Occupation (such as child care or business support services)? Although specific requirements vary by city or county jurisdiction, such activities — and others that can impact public health and safety or the tranquility of your neighborhood — often require some level of approval from your local building or planning department.

     The Uniform Building Code, (UBC) for example, states that “no building or structure regulated by this code shall be erected, constructed, enlarged, altered, repaired, moved, improved, removed, converted or demolished unless a separate permit for each building or structure has first been obtained from the building official.”

     If you are planning any home improvement project, whether indoors or as a backyard enhancement, check to find out if a building permit will be required. Any non-residential use of your home may also require a use or zoning permit.

     Financial and legal penalties and fines for failing to get a required permit can be significant. When in doubt, call your local building or planning department.


     Every person or corporation who submits a bid or contract for construction work valued at $500 or more must hold a state contractors license in the appropriate license classification. The only exceptions are individuals who are specifically exempt from the license requirement by statute.

     The Contractors State License Board, upon finding that an applicant has sufficient experience, general knowledge of building and construction laws; is knowledgeable in the classification for which he has applied; and is financially responsible; will issue a contractors license, which must be renewed every two years.

     A licensed contractor is required to display his license in the contractor’s main office of business.

     In order for those dealing with the contractor to be assured that the contractor is currently and properly licensed, each contractor is provided with a license pocket card. If the contractor does not have a card in his possession, contact the Contractors State License Board to determine the contractor’s status.

     To report unlicensed activity, call the Statewide Investigative fraud Team (SWIFT).

Northern Swift (916) 255-2924

Or write to the

Contractors State License Board
P. O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826


     Property owners, consumers, business owners and governmental agencies routinely have need for qualified construction contractors to construct various types of private and public projects, from new construction to remodeling and rehabilitation. Most owners are well aware that California law requires that anyone doing such work (if valued at $500 or more) to be properly licensed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB).

     To legally perform construction work, however, it is not enough for a contractor just to have a contractor’s license: that license must be issued for a specific type or classification of work that is to be done. A licensed Plumbing Contractor, for example, may not contract for roof repairs, electrical work, or other work not specifically identified by CSLB as applicable for the plumbing classification. Contractors working out of their license classification are subject to disciplinary action by the CSLB.

     Many contractors are qualified in more than one field of construction, and accordingly have applied for and been issue supplemental License Classifications. These additional classifications are all “attached” to the same contractor’s license number and the contractor is thus allowed to contract for work in any and all of his/her license classifications.

     Private owners and public agencies should always verify that contractors with whom they intend to contract are (1) properly licensed (bonded, etc.) by the CSLB and (2) possess the necessary license classifications for the work proposed.

     Upon request, the CSLB provides information about a licensed contractor’s license and bond status. The Board’s toll-free automated information number is:

800-321-CSLB (2752) or 916-255-3900 (outside California)

     If you have access to the internet you can also log on to the CSLB’s website: or the Solano-Napa Builders Exchange website:

An important word about


     Through the terms of your written Home Improvement Contract with your licensed contractor, you have agreed to pay for the work you want done in a timely manner. California law requires you to honor your payment obligations to your contractor. If contractors are not paid for their work, the law allows them to place a lien on your property to help them secure the payments due them under their contract.

     In addition, you should be aware that any subcontractor or supplier hired by your general contractor or subcontractor must notify you in writing that they were working on, or supplying materials to your property. This notice is called a “Preliminary 20-day Notice” and should be sent to you by certified mail within 20 days of the contractor first starting work or supplying materials to your property. If a subcontractor or supplier fails to send you this notice in a timely manner, the law does not permit them to record a mechanics’ lien against your property if they fail to get paid by the contractor who hired them.

     The 20-day notice is meant to inform you which subcontractors and suppliers (whom you did not hire directly and would not otherwise know about) are working or supplying materials to your property. You should require your general contractor to get lien releases from all subcontractors and suppliers who sent you a preliminary notice and have done work on your project whenever you make a payment to your contractor.

     State law requires that contractors provide a “Notice To Owner” regarding Mechanics’ Liens. The contract must state that upon satisfactory payment being made for any portion of the work performed, the contractor shall furnish a full and unconditional release from any claim or mechanics’ lien for that portion of the work for which payment has been received.

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