California residents who want to know how to become a general contractor in California must first understand the definitions, exemptions and mandatory requirements. Any business or person who works to construct or alter a building, parking facility, roadway, excavation, railroad property or other structure must be licensed by the CSLB, or Contractors State License Board. This requirement holds for any project where labor and materials cost $500 or more. Reasons to get a contractor’s license in California include:
- It’s the law.
- Contractors can sue customers in court when they don’t pay.
- You can qualify for discounts from suppliers.
- Licensed contractors can join builders’ associations that offer job postings, group insurance plans and planning rooms.
- Contractors can legally advertise their services.
- You can pull building permits.
In California, there are four licensing classifications:
- A: General Engineering
- B: General Building
- C: Specialty Classes
- D: Limited Speciality Classes
The mandatory requirements for contractor licensing include being 18-years-old or older, having a valid Social Security number and demonstrating the skills and experience to manage the daily activities of a construction business. Both individuals and business entities can be licensed.
Contractor licensing applicants must have four years of journey-level experience within the last 10 years. Journey-level experience includes work as a journeyman, foreman, contractor, builder/owner or supervising employee of a general contractor. You can also receive credit in the following ways:
- Up to 1.5 years credit for receiving an Associate of Arts degree from an accredited institution.
- Up to two years credit for receiving a four-year degree in economics, business, math, physics or degrees related to trades or crafts related to construction.
- Up to three years credit for a Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship in a contacting-related field.
The Application Process for Becoming a General Contractor
Individuals, partnerships, LLCs and corporations must complete and submit “An Application for Original Contractor License.” If you were already licensed within the past five years and remain in good standing or work with a qualifying individual, you must also complete and submit “An Application for Original Contractor License,” but the exam requirement is waived. A processing fee, licensing fee and classification fee are required when you apply. The classifications are general contractor, building contractor and specialty contractor. There are many specialty classifications, which can be found at www.cslb.ca.gov.
You can also qualify for licensing by entering an apprenticeship in California. These are run by trade unions and local employers and last between three and five years. It also helps your employment prospects if you earn optional certifications from the Construction Management Association of America or The American Institute of Constructors. These certifications include Certified Construction Manager, or CCM, Associate Constructor, or AC, and Certified Professional Constructor, or CPC. You could also enter an apprenticeship, which are administered by trade associations, trade unions and local employers.
Passing the California Exam for Becoming a General Contractor
Contractors can qualify with related work experience or education, but there are no requirement for continuing education. The state’s contractor’s exam has 100 questions that must be answered within 2.5 hours. A score of 72 percent is required to pass the exam. You can access study guides at www.cslb.ca.gov. These guides include general contracting and specialty guides for all kinds of building and designing issues such as landscaping and working with sheet metal, ornamental metal and structural steel.
New applicants must first pass an open-book exam on dealing with asbestos. Passing this exam doesn’t qualify you to work with asbestos but simply shows that you’re aware of the problems that asbestos creates. Those who want to qualify to remove or install underground storage containers must be certified in this work. You may only apply for one license at a time, and you must have the required work experience before you can take the exam.
Other requirements for licensing include putting up a $15,000 bound or leaving a cash deposit with the CSLB. This bond can be used to satisfy claims of defective construction or to pay employees who weren’t paid for their work. A license can also be denied for certain criminal convictions.
Exemptions to Contractor Licensing
There are exemptions to mandatory licensing in California, and these include the following situations:
- Minor Work – Work and repairs that cost less than $500 for both materials and labor are exempt from licensing.
- Public Employees – Those public employees who work on projects are exempt from licensing.
- Owner Builders – People who own property can work on it without a license.
- Business Employees – Employees can work on projects where they are wholly directed by others. Those who can direct this work include licensed contractors and property owners.
- Structural Improvements – Owners can repair or improve their property without a license if they don’t intend to sell the property within a year.
- Manufacturer Exemption – Manufacturers that produce or install finished products that don’t become a part of a finished structure care are exempt from licensing.