Senator McGuire’s legislation to protect homeowners rebuilding after wildfires passes key Senate committee

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Sacramento, CA – After thousands of Californians lost their homes in the devastating wildfires of 2017 and 2018, many began the challenging task of rebuilding their lives and homes. With so much loss, some homeowners turned to contractors offering great deals, but they had no experience building homes.

Homeowners would come to find out that their contractor didn’t have the experience needed to do the job right, or even finish their work. Homeowners were left with homes that had improper wall and roof framing, roofs that leaked and windows that were installed backwards.

Losing a home is traumatic enough – but ending up with an inexperienced contractor – or worse, a contractor who intentionally takes a job knowing they can’t finish it – has made the rebuilding process, and the healing process, incredibly traumatic.

That’s why Senator McGuire introduced legislation this year to fix and clarify contractor licensing classifications and this week, the bill passed 9-0 with bipartisan support in the Senate Business and Professions Committee.

SB 1189 addresses this issue by eliminating the one-size-fits-all contracting license. One license would be focused on remodels (this would be new) and the other focused on home construction (this is the current situation). This is commonsense transparency that consumers desperately need to ensure their contractor is properly trained for the job at hand. 

“I want to be clear – the majority of contractors in Sonoma County, who are advancing with rebuilds, are doing right by their customers. But there are a few rogue contractors – representing several dozen individual homeowners – who charged fire survivors full price for rebuilds that included shoddy work and countless mistakes. Some jobs weren’t even completed, some weren’t started. These contractors should have never been in the business and their egregious actions have added to the trauma so many have been coping with. By creating a new contract licensing classification specific to residential rebuilding, this bill ensures that contractors who accept these projects after a natural disaster can be held accountable for their actions.

Currently, state law provides consumer protections on home remodels and repairs, protections such as requiring work be completed before full payment can be demanded. However, these consumer protections do not include home reconstruction, rebuilds, and restorations for structures lost to natural disaster. This bill would expand these protections.

Additionally, SB 1189 will close a loophole in our criminal laws which currently do not include home rebuilds in the definition of home improvement. 

Currently, District Attorneys are hesitant to prosecute unlicensed contractors for taking advantage of fire survivors because the law is unclear if those criminal provisions also apply to fire rebuild and restorations.

SB 1189 will allow District Attorneys to prosecute unlicensed contracting companies who take advantage of wildfire survivors.

SB 1189 is co-authored by Senator Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Evan Low. The bill will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks.