This past March, a statewide undercover sting operation by the California Contractors State License Board (CCSLB) found 10 contractors in the Bakersfield area operating without a license. Of those 10, eight were pool service contractors. 

Called the “Spring Blitz”, the most recent sting was one of about three that happen semi-regularly throughout the year. The Bakersfield sting occurred simultaneously with others across California. All told, 85 remodeling contractors were caught that day.

El Capitan.
El Capitan.

Partnering with the Kern County District Attorney’s Office and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, investigators from the CCSLB’s Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (SWIFT) called suspected unlicensed operators for home improvement bids.

Targeted contractors went to a home where SWIFT investigators pretended to be a homeowner. The fake clients sought quotes for work that exceeded $499, which is the maximum that contractors can work without a license.

When asked if they had a license, those that denied having one where arrested by local law enforcement who were waiting nearby. 

Bakersfield was the only area where Pool and Spa maintenance contractors were targeted. The CCSLB went after pool contractors due to the high number of complaints they received in that area. 

“We had a lot of cases where people who did not have a license and weren’t properly trained were installing or improperly maintaining pools,” says Melanie Bedwell, a CCSLB spokesperson.

The majority of contractors were cited for contracting without a license and illegal advertising. A couple were hit for not having work’s compensation insurance. 

Under California law, these citations can carry hefty fines and jail time. Contracting without a license has a first penalty conviction of up to six months in jail or fines up to $5,000, or both.

Fines are based on the quoted bids. If the bid is higher than $5000, the contractor only gets fined $5000, if not, the fine can be up to $5000. 

State law requires contractors to put their six-digit license number in all print, broadcast, online and vehicular advertisements. Contractors without a license can advertise for jobs that are worth less than $500, but their ads must state that they are not licensed. The penalty is a fine that can fall between $700 and $1000.

Pool contractors are required by the CCSLB to at least have a C-61 classification. C-61 is a limited specialty that confines the contractor to a specific field and scope of operations.

Those in the pool industry need to have the sub-title D-35. 

D-35 covers the installation, replacement and repair of pool motors, pumps, filters, gas heats and any above ground piping connected to pools. These include electrical switches, breakers, pool lights, diving boards, existing solar systems, pool and spa acid baths and vinyl liners to existing surfaces. 

For anything else, a pool tender needs to have a different classification. For example, contractors that want to work underground or installing new solar equipment need to have a C-53 license. This specifically covers the construction of pools and spas.

Several different contractors stated that they believed up to 80 percent of pool tenders were working unlicensed. 

“Eighty-percent of the pool and service companies, the mom and pops, don’t carry a contractors license,” says Brad Ward, owner of Atlas Pool Care. “Some of [these guys], if they’ve got a net and a pole and a truck, don’t even need a truck, some work out of their car, they’ll do it.”

Ward added that he felt that the sting was “outstanding.” He feels that it sends the message to service professionals that they need to play be the rules. Ward said that he’d like to see them happen every day. 

“It doesn’t take any skill to get a business license, but it does for contractors. These guys aren’t taking business from licensed contractors but they are hurting profit margins. They’ll do any jobs for a dollar,” Ward says.

For those who aren’t independent but work in a company, all that’s necessary is that the company has a license. In Ward’s case, he’s the qualifier for Atlas Pool Care and his employees work under his license. 

Beau Braisher, of Beau Braisher Pool Service and the Bakersfield IPSSA chapter president, believes that having a license shows professionalism and covers a contractor’s bases. 

“Say you put in an Intelliflo system for X amount of dollars but have to go to court because the client won’t pay. They found out you don’t have a license -- you just put in an Intelliflo for free,” says Braisher.

In the case, of service associations like IPSSA, having a contractors license is a requirement. Robert Nichols, the Diamond Bar chapter president and part of the IPSSA Outreach group, says that IPSSA requires contractors to be licensed. 

“It used to say [that] IPSSA recommends a license for everything you do. Maybe four or five years ago, we changed it to says, ‘You shall be licensed.’” he says. 

UPA, on the hand doesn’t have that requirement. 

For those worried about paying for their contractors license, both UPA and IPSSA offer a scholarship that can cover training for the contractors license. 

“We will scholarship a man’s education to get his contractor license. It’s not really a burden to them. If they get the scholarship for the education, their only fee is to take the test.”