how to get your C-28 license for lock & security systems contractors in California

C-28 License: Lock and Security Equipment Contractor

Table of Contents

C-28 Lock and Security Equipment Contractors are master locksmiths that specialize in a wide variety of security equipment systems including:

  • Jail and prison locking devices
  • Panic and fire exited rated devices
  • Gate and door closures and releases
  • Master key systems 
  • Motion detectors
  • Electronic access controls
heavy duty silver bank vault locked

  • The security systems industry has experienced incredible growth over the last two decades 
  • Sophisticated technology becomes more readily available to the public
  • From 1982 to 2000 the prison population in California grew by 500%

This article will provide you with every single detail you need to know about:

  1. How to get your C28 License
  2. State requirements
  3. California contractor license exam questions 
  4. Study guides 
  5. How to fill out the C-28 License application

Online Practice Exams and Study Guides

What Is the C-28 License?

A lock and security equipment contractor evaluates, sets-up, installs, maintains and repairs all doors and door assemblies, gates, locks and locking devices, panic and fire exit devices, manual and automatic operated gate and door closures and releases, jail, and prison locking devices and permanently installed or built-in safes and vaults. This classification includes but is not limited to master key systems, metal window guards, security doors, card activated and electronic access control systems for control equipment, motion and other types of detectors and computer systems for control and audit of control systems and other associated equipment. Fire alarm systems are specifically not included in this section”-CSLB.GOV

The C28 is the classification required in the state of California for all persons looking to bid on lock and security systems installation, repair, or maintenance projects where the cost of labor and materials exceeds $500.

Duties of a C-28 Contractor

locksmith manually fixing a lock on a wooden door

The C-28 License exists as a license in the state of California primarily because it certifies a service that deals with the direct safety and security of the public.

C-28 licensed contractors can vary based on their particular area of expertise, but generally, their duties and skill set include:

  • Installation, Set up, repair and maintenance of  doors, gates, fire exits, locking devices, jail cells, safes, and vaults 
  • Operating various types of power tools
  • Drilling/penetrating safes and key generation
  • Trouble shooting of various types of automatic door and gate systems
  • Designing card activated systems
  • Estimating, bidding, accounting and book-keeping
  • Maintaining a safe job site

To obtain the C-28 License, you will be tested on all aspects of lock and security equipment.

It will be essential to your success to become familiar with all the areas of expertise that fall under this trade.

A C-28 Contractor is legally not allowed to bid on a project that falls outside of the spectrum of installation, repair, or maintenance of lock and security equipment.

Often times there is confusion in regards to which classification is needed for what area of expertise.

In California, there are 3 levels of certification or licensing within the lock and security equipment field.


A locksmith operates a business that installs, repairs, opens, or modifies locks, or that originates keys for locks.

(An individual who merely duplicates existing keys is not considered a locksmith. 

Getting the Locksmith Certification, Requires application, various live scan background checks, and a simple application process.

For more information visit the BSIS website

C61 – D16 Hardware, Locks, and Safe Contractor:

Hardware, locks, and safes contractors install, modifies or repairs power and/or manually activated door and window locks with related equipment, built-in safes, and vaults.

Basically, someone that is looking to charge over $500 but works only with manually operated locks and nothing more.

Only requires that you apply and pass a law exam.

To learn more about the C61-D16 Classification, check out this comprehensive licensing guide.

C28 Lock and Security Equipment Contractor:

Covers manually operated locks and hardware but also covers sophisticated electronic security systems.

For anyone looking to charge over $500 for the installation, repair, or maintenance of any type of manually or electronically controlled lock or security system.

How to get the C-28 license

To get a C-28 license in California, you must prove a minimum of 4 years of journeyman level experience and pass a two-part state exam with the Contractor State License Board.

To qualify for an exam date you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a valid Driver's License or USA Issued Identification
  • Have a Social Security or ITIN #
  • Not Currently be on probation or parole

You must also have:

  • 4 Years Journey Level Experience
  • A Qualifying Individual to sign off on your experience
  • A way to prove your experience if the state asks for documentation

What is Journey Level Experience?

Journey level experience is experience gained working unsupervised full time for either a lock and security systems company, General Contractor, union, or directly under someone that holds the C-28 License.

Some Journeyman-level tradesmen have also completed apprenticeship programs. 

A Journeyman level tradesman can perform all the duties associated with his or her trade.

The state will want to see 4 full-time years of experience within the last 10 years. The years do not need to be consecutive, but they do need to be 4 years in total.


Contractors state license board logo

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is the governing body for all contractors in the state of California.

Their sole responsibility is to protect the consumer public and ensure that anyone charging over $500 for construction services is qualified and registered with the state of California.

The C-28 License is issued to contractors by the CSLB.

The CSLB administers applications, exams, and maintains a database of all active and inactive contractor license numbers which are public domain. 

Subcontractor and General Contractor

older style keycard lock system

In many cases individuals that hold the C-28 license work directly with a homeowner or business owner.

However, they may also function as a sub to a General Contractor continually engaging in the installation, maintenance, or repair of lock and security systems for multiple projects over an extended period of time. 

For more information on the functions of a General Contractor check out this article.

General Contractors oversee that the C-28 Licensed Subcontractor has not only executed his duties with adherence to code, security standards but often to the specific customized requests of the client

Signature of a Qualifying Individual

The following people may be used as Qualifying Individuals to sign off on your experience when applying for the C-28 license:

  • Licensed General Contractor
  • C-28 License Holder
  • Fellow Employee (within the last 10 years)
  • Former Supervisor (within the last 10 years)
  • Business Associate
  • Fellow Journeyman
  • Union Representative

Filling out the C-28 License Application

Your Qualifying Individual will also need to provide a brief but detailed description of your glazing knowledge and skillset.

The way this description is written will be critical to whether or not your application is accepted.

For example:

“Bill installed our electronic locking system” will not be descriptive enough for the CSLB

They will want to see something like: 

Bill has installed card-activated systems, metal window guards, panic and fire exit devices, master key systems, and motion detectors”

For a full list of the exact verbiage to increase the likelihood of your application being accepted.

Check out my article on filling out the CSLB application. 

The description written by your qualifying individual will need to include the core skills required for locks and security equipment contractors.

Work Experience for the C-28 License

rows of cells in a prison

There is a possibility that the CSLB will ask you to submit documentation supporting your lock and security equipment experience.

The state board gives you many ways to prove your experience including Tax Returns, check stubs, receipts, invoices, and even contracts.

The contractor's state license board receives thousands of applications per month.

There is a good chance they won’t request further documentation of your experience but if you are one of the applicants that get reviewed you will need to be ready to submit this documentation. 

Once your application has been accepted, you should receive your exam date within a matter of weeks.

Application Processing, Fees and Criminal History

The average application processing time is between 6-8 weeks.

Typically you receive your exam date with another 3-4 weeks' notice before actually going to take the exam.

This time frame can fluctuate based on many factors including:

  • Time of year (processing time slows down during the holidays)
  • Criminal History 
  • Request to prove further documentation of experience
  • Potential mistakes on your application

In total the entire process should take 90 days assuming none of the mentioned issues arise.

The current state fees are:

1. $330 State Application Fee (one-time fee per application sent to the state board )

2. $200 License Activation Fee ( paid every two years )

Upon passing the exam, you will also be required to provide a Contractor Bond number

Can you get a Contractors License with a Felony in California?

two law books and a wooden gavel

Having a criminal record in no way stops you from getting the C-28 License. Thousands of contractors get licensed each year despite their criminal records.

Be honest on the application, even if the felony or misdemeanor happened years ago and even if it was expunged. 

BE 100% HONEST ON THE APPLICATION, because they will see everything when you do a live scan fingerprinting.

The CSLB handles criminal records on a case-by-case basis. Remember, the state board's responsibility is to protect the public. 

In my experience, they are mainly concerned with criminal charges associated with fraud, embezzlement, forgery, or some type of financial-related crime. 

If your conviction does not fall under these categories most likely, you will have no issues when applying for a C-28 license, but you will need to be prepared to submit any court documents or prove rehabilitation at the state’s request.

In the state of California, you are required to divulge any criminal charges when applying for any type of state license even if they have been expunged.

Contractor License Exam

The C-28 license exam will consist of:

  • 115 Questions of Contractor LAW
  • 115 Questions on HVAC
  • 3 hours to complete each portion
  • Multiple choice exam done on a computer
  • Closed Book

Recommended Resources

Content of the TRADE Examination

The Lock and Security Equipment (C-28 license) Examination is divided into six major sections:

1.    Planning and Estimation (25%)

  • Plans and specifications
  • Site survey
  • System design
  • Project and material costs

2.    Install, Repair, and Maintain Doors and Hardware (20%)

  • Locks, hardware, and closing devices
  • Exit devices
  • Doors and frames

3.    Install, Repair, and Maintain Electronic Locking Systems (18%)

  • Wiring
  • Locking and operating hardware/software
  • Controls, surveillance, and accessories

4.    Install, Repair, and Maintain Mechanical Locking Systems (18%)

  • Lock cylinders
  • Key generation
  • Lock bypass

5.    Install, Repair, and Maintain Safes, Vaults, and Other Security Containers (5%)

  • Safe installation
  • Safe repair
  • Safe deposit locks
  • Drilling/penetrating safes

6. Safety (12%)

                   • Protective gear

                   • Power tools and equipment

                   • Safely work in elevated areas

CSLB Test Locations

The C-28 license exam is administered on a computer.

Currently, the CSLB testing locations are in Berkeley, Fresno, Norwalk, Oxnard, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, and San Jose.

The Contractors State License Board will assign you a testing center based on your location. The state exam is not available online.

You are allowed to bring a pre-approved translator with you. The CSLB will grant you 18 months after your application is accepted to pass both examinations. 

You must wait three weeks before retaking the state exam ( $60 per retake ) A 70% score will be required to pass.

For more information about what is on the California Contractor LAW Exam, be sure to check out our blog post covering everything you need to know.

C-28 License Study Guides and Practice Tests

a calculator and pen laying on top of a piece of paper. passing the C-28 license exam is possible if you study hard

Getting your C-28 license can be a smooth process if you have the right information.

Understanding the difference between how things are done every day on the job site vs. how the state will expect you to perform your trade is a very important part of passing the exam. 

Applicants get surprised by how different the subject matter on the state exam is from their years of first-hand experience.

They get confused when they see terms used to describe tools or job site practices.

Remember, they are testing you on all the things you will be allowed to bid on, so make sure that you are knowledgeable on all aspects of your trade.

Being prepared is the most important thing you can do in ensuring your success on the contractor license exam.

Studying C-28 license practice tests along with explanations and diagrams for as little as 10 minutes a day is a small investment to make, but will increase your likelihood of success.

It will be essential to study a standardized resource that will give you the information that you need, which is to pass the state exam.

For schools and C-28 license study guides designed to help you the state exam, check out my post on the best resources to pass your state exam.

Locksmith Apprenticeship

man operating a heavy duty door lock

If you don’t have the 4 years required journeyman level experience to obtain a C-28 license, not to worry. Your journey begins here.

Lock and Security equipment work is a highly specialized trade with an unlimited amount of opportunity.

Whether you are brand new to the trade, have dabbled over the years, or are coming back and want to brush up your skills, there is a myriad of resources available to help you learn the basics or get up to speed. 

California Contractor License Study Guides

Books, Classes, Software, and Training covering Lock and Security installation, Maintenance, and repair are available in most cities and online.

Usually, someone looking to enter this trade would begin with an apprenticeship program by getting a locksmith certification. 

After gaining the necessary experience, the apprentice could attempt to look for a job working unsupervised with a C-28 contractor, company, or union at which point experience recognized by the Contractors State License Board would begin.

For information on courses in your area or books to get you on the right path check out our courses section

Opportunities in the Security Lock Industry

With increasing concern around security and safety in school systems around the country, the lock and security equipment space Is on track to become a multi-billion, dollar industry. 

There is a huge opportunity in this space for anyone who has the required experience, licensing, and bonding.

Security Locksmiths that obtain the C-28 License who are highly skilled, knowledgeable, and offer excellent customer service can quickly build a profitable business.

Offering a vital set of skills to homeowners and businesses looking for lock and security services can make you quite valuable in the marketplace.

Blue Print Reading Course

blueprint reading course for those looking to get the general contractor license in california

It is critical for the contractors looking to get the C-28 license to be able to follow specific designs and blueprints.

Identifying floor and electrical plans are very important when installing automatic doors or complex electrical security systems.  

Interpreting construction blueprints and executing your duties safely is an invaluable skill for all tradesmen but is especially important for lock and security contractors.

For a basic overview of Construction, blueprints be sure to check out our Online Blue Print Reading course!

EPA Certification

logo of the united states environmental protection agency. Roofing contractors looking to get the C39 roofing license may encounter lead paint on the job site, and need to know the safety procedures to contain it

Understanding how to safely contain lead-based paint when making alterations to a structure built before 1978 is a fundamental skill.

Lead paint can travel miles through the air, rest on soil, and even enter air ducts causing potentially fatal damage to those that come in contact with it.

Lock and security contractors looking to build a profitable business must position themselves as experts and the authority within their industry.

They must be a source of information beyond just lock systems for their clients and community if they want referrals and repeat business.

For more information on adhering to EPA Standards when dealing with Lead Paint check out my article on lead safety.