Contractors performing work in California are required to be licensed by the California State License Board (“CSLB”). Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §7065. Except for sole proprietors, contractors are typically licensed through “qualifiers,” i.e., officers or employees who take a licensing exam and meet other requirements to become licensed on behalf of the contractor’s company. Contractors who perform work in California without being properly licensed are subject to a world of hurt, including civil and criminal penalties (see, e.g., Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 7028, 7028.6, 7028.7, 7117, and Cal. Labor Code §§ 1020-1022), and the inability to maintain a lawsuit to recover compensation for their work. Cal. Bus & Prof. Code § 7031(a); Hydra Tech Systems Ltd. v. Oasis Water Park, 52 Cal.3rd 988 (1991).
But arguably the worst ramification of not being property licensed is that established in Business & Professions Code Section 7031(b), which provides that any person who uses the services of an unlicensed contractor may bring an action for the return of all compensation paid for the performance of the work, commonly known as “disgorgement.” This remedy is particularly harsh (often described as “draconian”) because it makes no allowance for the fact that an unlicensed contractor will likely have already paid out the bulk of its compensation to its subcontractors, suppliers and vendors, but nevertheless can be ordered to disgorge all compensation.
Given the complexity of California’s contractor license law, the disgorgement penalty threatens not just contractors who willfully evade licensing, but also those who inadvertently fail to keep their license current, those who are improperly licensed for the specific work they are performing, and those who do not meet particular underlying licensing requirements, e.g., failure to maintain workers compensation insurance unless truly exempt, and (arguably) failure