How to Obtain a Contractor's License in California

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In California, as with many other states, large home construction, repair, and remodeling projects must be completed by a licensed contractor. California contractor licensure is regulated by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB), a state government entity that also protects consumers and regulates contractor activity. In addition to administering license exams, the CSLB investigates complaints and provides administrative services to contractors and their customers. It is also responsible for seeking criminal and civil actions against unlicensed contractors. Contractor licenses in California are divided into three different classes and include 44 specialty contractor license categories.

Who Must Obtain a California Contractor License?

According to the CSLB,

"All businesses or individuals who construct or alter any building, highway, road, parking facility, railroad, excavation, or other structure in California must be licensed by the California Contractors State License Board (CSLB) if the total cost (labor and materials) of one or more contracts on the project is $500 or more. Contractors, including subcontractors, specialty contractors, and persons engaged in the business of home improvement (with the exception of joint ventures and projects involving federal funding), must be licensed before submitting bids. Licenses may be issued to individuals, partnerships, corporations, limited liability companies, or joint ventures."

Basic Qualifications

To qualify for a contractor's license, applicants must be at least 18 years of age and have at least four years of related experience or education. There are no financial requirements for obtaining a license, but applicants must hold a $15,000 bond before receiving a license. If you do not meet the requirements for licensure as a contractor, you may qualify for a license under a license holder who serves as your qualifying individual.

California Contractor License: Reciprocity

The CSLB offers reciprocity on a limited basis. The CSLB has formal reciprocity agreements only with Arizona, Nevada, and Utah. Contractors from other states may apply for California licensure if they meet specific qualifications. Reciprocal licenses are awarded only in specified classifications. In general, the CSLB offers limited reciprocity in areas where the scope and trade do not vary or where out-of-state requirements are identical to those of the California contractor requirements.

California Contractor License Classifications

The CSLB groups contractors into three classes. A Class A contractor is one whose principal line of business requires specialized and technical engineering knowledge. A Class B or general building contractor relates to any structure being modified or built and on which at least two different trades are engaged. This is the class to seek if you plan to operate as a general contractor on projects that involve two or more types of subcontractors. Class B contractors also may be primary contractors on framing and carpentry projects.

Class C contractors are referred to as specialty contractors. This class includes most contractors who work in a specific trade or contract as primary contractors or subcontractors for a specific type of work, such as plumbing, roofing, concrete, or HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). There are 44 different licensing classifications for specialty contractors.