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Tips to Homeowners

May 17, 1987|ARMAND L. FONTAINE | Fontaine is president of the Western Regional Master Builders Assn. and a director of the American Building Contractors Assn

Question: We need advice on what to do about a building contractor who will not complete our job. We have contacted the State Contractors License Board and filed a complaint in May of last year and still have not gotten any help.

Answer: I receive letters similar to yours every week and understand your frustration. The State Contractors License Board is funded from the contractor's license fees from almost 180,000 licensees in California. In my opinion, very little of the money is spent where it should be, helping the consumer resolve problems with contractors.

The board receives more than 35,000 complaints a year. Yet, based on information given to the public at the last board meeting on April 16 in Santa Barbara, there are only 82 deputies to handle all these cases, which average about 160 per deputy at any one time. The net result, of course, is that the easy ones are settled quickly, and the more important problems are very often left unserviced.

Most of the complaints deal with home-improvement projects. My advice for handling a problem with a contractor, is to get your information well substantiated, first by writing the contractor regarding the problem, whether it be job abandonment, shoddy workmanship or any other specific reason, detailing in your letter the problems, and sending a copy to the board. Make sure that the contractor knows that a copy of your letter has gone to the board.

Most legitimate contractors will usually respond immediately. If no action is taken by the contractor to resolve the problem, a formal complaint should be filed with the board and a copy sent to the contractor.

If the loss to you is less than $1,500, I would file a small claims court action against the contractor. If the amount is considerably over $1,500, the only other recourse, besides whatever help you might get from the board, is to employ an attorney familiar with the construction industry.

I am frustrated daily when I receive correspondence from homeowners who have not been properly helped by the board. The only recourse that I can think of, in dealing with the bureaucracy, is to appear at the next meeting.

The board is a mix of consumers and contractors appointed by the governor. There are 13 board members. They hold public meetings about five times a year, and I have seen consumers appear and receive satisfaction, or at least service, as a result.

It's the old story of the squeaky wheel receiving the oil. It is unfortunate that the way in which the board is constituted is such that legitimate consumer complaints cannot be satisfactorily handled in an acceptable period of time.

Fontaine is president of the Western Regional Master Builders Assn. and a director of the American Building Contractors Assn. He will answer questions concerning home improvements. Phone 213/653-4084 or write him at 6404 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 850, Los Angeles 90048-5510.

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