Question: I have a dispute with a contractor who has done some work on my home. The amount is about $2,000. What is the best way for me to proceed on this matter?
Answer: The first recourse is to file an action with the State Contractors License Board. It is very possible the board will tell you to take the matter to small claims court.
However, before you do that, you should insist that the license board follow through on your complaint so that if the contractor is at fault, he will be cited by the board and this will appear on his record. In addition, this would give you further substantiation should you take legal action later.
You should keep the contractor apprised by sending him copies of your complaint to the license board. In many instances, this will help to resolve the matter without having to go to further expense and time.
If this fails, and the contractor has been cited by the license board, you may sue in small claims court for amounts up to $1,500.
If the amount is substantial, I suggest that you attempt to use arbitration. In California arbitration is handled by the American Arbitration Assn. and the Better Business Bureau. I believe that the Better Business Bureau is somewhat expensive. But in any case, the cost is a few hundred dollars, and the process does not require you to use an attorney.
In arbitration, you usually represent yourself, and the arbitration is usually done by persons familiar with construction, such as other contractors, architects and attorneys. The drawback to arbitration is that it is virtually non-appealable.
If your claim is large and there is a mechanics or lien notice involved, then you should turn to the regular court system. You can file in Municipal Court for any amount up to $15,000. Anything over this amount, must be filed in Superior Court.
However, there is usually a long delay before trial and, of course, attorneys' fees can sometimes be prohibitive.