the fastest way to get your CSLB license for california contractors

The Fastest Way To Get Your CSLB License!

Table of Contents

CSLB License

A – General Engineering Contractor

B –  General Building Contractor

C – Specialty Contractor

C-61 Limited Specialty Classifications

Who needs a California Contractor License?

Anyone charging over construction services or placing a bid on a project that is over $500 in value for labor or materials.

Individuals, Corporations, and Partnerships must be registered and hold a CSLB license.

What Types of CSLB Licenses are available?

There are contractor license classifications for virtually every area of construction.

The more common construction trades fall under the C-Specialty Classification.

Some of the more obscure trades fall under the C-61 Limited Specialty Classification.

What is the difference between a General and Specialty Contractor?

Get all the information you need about the CSLB license in this article

General Contractors typically oversee a complete construction project and are in charge of coordinating and hiring subcontractors.

A General Contractor should be familiar with various trades. 

For example, a General Building Contractor has to be experienced primarily in:

  • Framing 
  • Concrete 
  • Plumbing
  • Electrical

They are also tested on various phases of the construction process.

Specialty contractors are generally hired to perform a specific task.

Recommended Resources

What kinds of jobs can you bid on with the General Contractor License?

A general contractor can bid on a project that includes different specialty trades but if the project involves two or more trades

They must hold that specialty license or subcontract the work out to a contractor that does.

General Contractors can bid on projects that include:

  • Earthwork and Demolition
  • Rough Framing and Carpentry
  • Flooring
  • Stacking, Joisting, Bracing and Installing Girders
  • Roofing and Installing Shingles
  • Installing Gas Lines and Sewer Lines
  • Mixing Mortar and Pouring Concrete
  • Landscaping and Painting 
  • Electrical Work
  • Wiring and Installing Receptacles 
  • Insulation and Acoustical Work
  • Plumbing, Installing Sinks and Bathrooms
  • Residential Home Construction and Remodels
  • Commercial Apartments, Restaurants, and Strip Malls
  • Lathing and Plastering

For example, if a home remodel will require plumbing, electrical, and carpentry under a single contract.

The general contractor will need to hire subs to perform all of the duties apart from carpentry.

A general contractor can perform framing and carpentry as a subcontractor.

What Happens if you get caught contracting without a license?

You can be fined up to $15,000 or up to 6 months in the county jail.

Getting busted without a license can also negatively affect your chances of getting licensed in the future.

The CSLB has a state-wide task force that sets up sting operations targeting unlicensed construction activity.

Do I have to pass a test to get a Contractor License?

Yes. If you are applying for a General Contractor license or any of the C-Specialty classifications must pass a two-part exam: 

  • 115 Questions of LAW
  • 115 Questions of TRADE
  • 3 Hours To Complete Each Portion
  • Closed Book/Multiple Choice
  • Taken on a Computer 

If you are applying for a license that falls under the C-61 Limited Specialty Classifications, you will only need to pass the LAW portion of the exam. 

What is Contractor License LAW?

Contractor License Law includes the following topics:

  • Company organization
  •  Project organization
  • Cash management
  • Budget and planning
  • Taxes
  • Financial reporting
  • Employment regulations
  • Evaluation and record-keeping
  • Payroll
  • Hazardous/unknown materials
  • Prevailing wage requirements
  • Bonding requirements
  • Insurance requirements
  • Bonds
  • Workers’ compensation insurance
  • Liens and other remedies
  • Other insurance
  • Bidding
  • Cost control
  • Contracts
  • Payments
  • Business license
  • Contractor’s license
  • Activity regulation
  • Training and reporting requirements
  • General safety

When you to take the contractor license law exam you will be tested in all of these areas. It is critical that you take the time to familiarize yourself with these concepts.

The CSLB basically wants you to know how to run a business and handle people's money once you have a license. 

So in addition to knowing your trade, you should also know how to take care of your workers,

abide by state laws, meet payroll and have a basic understanding of finances and insurance. 

Learn more about Contractor License LAW!

Where do I take the CSLB License exam?

The Contractors State License Board has locations and testing centers in the following cities:

Location:Contractors State License Board9821 Business Park DriveSacramento, CA 95827
Northern Case Management:(916) 255-4027
Northern Statewide Investigative Fraud Team:(916) 255-2924Report Unlicensed Activity
Hours of Operation:Monday through Friday8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time(closed holidays)
Sacramento Intake and Mediation Center:P.O. Box 269116Sacramento, CA 95826(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
Central Statewide Investigative Fraud Team:(559) 490-0580Report Unlicensed Activity
Fresno Investigation Center:1277 East Alluvial Ave.Suite 106Fresno, CA 93720(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
Sacramento Investigative Center:P.O. Box 269115Sacramento, CA 95826(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
San Francisco Investigative Center:301 Junipero Serra Blvd.Suite 206San Francisco, CA 94127(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
Hours of Operation:Monday through Friday8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time(closed holidays)
Location:Contractors State License Board12501 East Imperial Hwy.Suite 600Norwalk, CA 90650
Southern Case Management:(562) 345-7656
Southern Statewide Investigative Fraud Team:(562) 345-7600Report Unlicensed Activity
Hours of Operation:Monday through Friday8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)(closed holidays)
Norwalk Intake and Mediation Center:12501 East Imperial Hwy.Suite 620Norwalk, CA 90650(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
Norwalk Investigative Center:12501 East Imperial Hwy.Suite 630Norwalk, CA 90650(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
San Bernardino Investigative Center:1845 Business Center Dr.Suite 206San Bernardino, CA 92408(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
San Diego Investigative Center:9246 Lightwave Ave.Suite 130San Diego, CA 92123(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
Valencia Investigative Center:28480 Avenue StanfordSuite 120Valencia, CA 91355(800) 321-CSLB (2752)
West Covina Investigative Center:100 N. Barranca St.Suite 300West Covina, CA 91791(800) 321-CSLB (2752)

How do I apply for a Contractor License in California?

Make sure that you avoid these common CSLB application mistakes

Online Practice Exams and Study Guides

How much does a CSLB License cost?

  • $330 State Application Fee
  • $200 License activation fee
  • $400 re-newel fee (every two years)
  • Construction Bond Fee

Does my Contractor License Work in Other States?

Contractor License reciprocity is an agreement between the Contractor licensing boards of two different states.

It can mean that they have similar building standards, allowing contractors to work freely between states.In the context of licensing, it means that a contractor who is licensed in one state, may not need to retake an exam to get licensed in another state. 

image shows an illustration of california. blog explains california contractor license reciprocity

California does not accept contractor licenses from other states. 

To perform services, you must be licensed in California. 

However, if you have a contractor license in Nevada, Utah, or Arizona it is possible, you can get a California contractor license without taking a trade portion of the exam.

Those who hold a license in California can apply for reciprocity in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona as well.

The CSLB has reciprocity agreements with the Contractor Licensing boards of Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

Because there are similarities in building standards, requirements, and scope of practice. 

The rules are:

  • The license you are applying for has to appear on the list of reciprocal classifications list
  • Your license must be currently in good standing for the last 5 years
  • You must submit a Request for Verification of License form to the agency that you are currently licensed under

If you meet all of the above requirements, there is a chance that the CSLB will wave your trade portion.

However, this is always up to the board, and ultimately whoever is reviewing your application. 

I have seen many cases where somebody qualified for reciprocity, applied, and still had to take the test so be prepared just in case.

What is a Construction Bond?

everything you need to understand about Construction bonds and california contractor licenses

A construction bond is a security deposit issued by a surety company.

Bonds are designed to protect the consumer public against contractor default. Construction bonds act as protection mechanisms for clients from unethical or illegal actions performed by contractors.

Construction bonds also ensure that subcontractors get paid for their work. They also ensure or that a contractor performs his duties as stated in a contract.

Construction bonds protect employees, suppliers, sub-contractors, or clients against a contractor's failure to abide by an agreement.

Three Types of Bonds

1. Surety Bond

In the construction world, “surety bond” is an umbrella term for various types of bonds.

Likewise, a surety bond is a promise from a guarantor to pay one party a stipulated amount if the second party fails to meet the obligations of a contract.

Surety companies licensed by the state to sell insurance products issue construction bonds.

2. Performance Bond

A performance bond may require additional stipulations or terms of completion as part of the bond.

For example, a contractor may be required to hold a performance bond before being able to accept a public works project due to the fact that taxpayer funds are involved.

Public agencies typically prefer contractors that hold performance bonds to protect themselves against contractor default.

As a result, most insurance companies require businesses to ensure that the contractor taking on the project has a construction bond. 

3. Payment Bond

Payment bonds guarantee that general contractors pay their subcontractors for work completed.

For example, a roofing subcontractor may ask a general contractor to hold a payment bond before any work is rendered.

Consequently, a homeowner may also ask that a general contractor has a payment bond in place to protect themselves against a claim from an unpaid subcontractor.

4. Bid Bond

A bid bond is designed to provide a developer with a guarantee that if a contractor wins a bid he/she must undertake the bid at the terms set.

Most states issue standard construction bonds, which allow contractors to legally perform work.

While the bid bond is a less common form of construction bond, their functions are very similar.

Construction Bonds vs Insurance Policies

  • The biggest difference between construction bonds and insurance policies is that bonds protect your clients and the consumer public. 
  • In contrast, Insurance policies protect you and your workers from the consumer public. 
  • Insurance policies are not required to have an active license while construction bonds are.

How Construction Bonds affect your Contractor License

  • The state of California, requires you to have a construction bond to maintain an active contractor license.  
  • A contractor license can sometimes can be extended to another individual but a surety bond can never be transferred to another license holder. 
  • Each individual needs to have their own bond to maintain an active license. When you pass the state license exam, you must provide your bond number to activate the license. 
  • The bond amount must be paid annually for the bond to remain active.

CSLB Plans for a Future Remodeling License for Handymen (2019 Update)

In 2015 the Contractors State License Board considered proposing a contractor license specifically for handymen. That did not require framing experience. 

The license was referred to as the C-1 Non-Structural Remodel and Repair Contractor.

The official description of the license was:

A non-structural remodel and repair contractor remodels and repairs existing structures built for the support, shelter, and enclosure of persons, animals, chattels, or movable property of any kind, requiring the use of at least two unrelated building trades or crafts, except as excluded in this section

Pretty much the same as the General Contractor license but the law stated that duties are limited to: “Remodel and Repair”

Basically, you could do remodels and repairs but you would not be allowed to do the following:

(1) Altering, adding, or moving any load-bearing portions of the existing structure, including footings, foundations, and weight-bearing members;

(2) Work requiring specialized engineering knowledge:

  • Elevator Construction
  • Fire Protection
  • Building/Moving/Demolition
  • Asbestos Abatement 
  • Construction Zone Traffic Control
  • Parking and Highway Improvement
  • Pipeline Construction
  • Sanitation Systems
  • Structural Steel
  • Well Drilling

Unfortunately, the law to bring this license about never passed. 

However now in 2019, the license is being considered again. This could be a huge boost for the construction industry and create many opportunities for handymen to legally ply their trade.

Stay tuned for updates!

Can you get a contractor license without any experience?

Getting a Contractor’s license in California without any experience is not impossible, but it can be ethically questionable.

A Contractor License is issued to a tradesman who has proven a certain level of experience and expertise.

featured image for a blog post about how to get a contractor license with no experience

They are entrusted to deliver a standard of service to the consumer public.

There are a few ways individuals who don’t have the required experience can directly hold or indirectly use a contractor license. 

Using an RMO License

One of the most common ways that individuals with no experience can have access to a contractor license is through an RMO or RME.

RMO stands for Responsible Managing Officer. 

This person is a licensed contractor that allows their license number to be used by an existing business to take on construction projects over $500.

RME stands for Responsible managing employees and is basically the same as an RMO except the contractor qualifying the company is an employee.

To learn more about RMO and RME licensing, take a look at this article.

Can you get an Exam waiver?

The following information is directly from the CSLB.GOV website:

Are there any circumstances under which a waiver of the examination may be requested?

Yes, at the Registrar's discretion, if the qualifying individual meets the following criteria:

•    The qualifying individual is a member of the immediate family of a licensee whose individual license was active and in good standing for five of the seven years immediately preceding the application;

•    The qualifying individual must have been actively engaged in the licensee's business for five of the previous seven years and must be applying in the same classification(s); and

•    The license must be required in order to continue the operations of an existing family business in the event of the absence or death of the licensee.

The Truth About Exam Waivers

In some cases, the CSLB will give you an exam waiver. However, this is becoming harder to get.

In my experience, I have never actually seen an exam waiver issued.

These days the state of California wants to make sure anyone charging for construction services has documented experience and has passed the exam.

 If you meet all of their requirements though, it could be worth a shot… just don't get your hopes up.

Can I use experience from work on my own house for the Contractor License?

The CSLB, allows some applicants to use owner builder experience as a way to qualify for the 4 years journey-level experience required to get a General Contractor License.

The term owner-builder refers to a property owner that acts as their own general contractor.

This may be a property manager or a homeowner that may or may not have a construction background but does work themselves or hires subcontractors to complete tasks.

Depending on the nature of the work the validity of the documentation, it is possible for owner builders to use their experience to get a General Contractor License

Responsibilities of an Owner-Builder

As an owner-builder you would be responsible for:

  • Pulling Permits
  • Scheduling Building Code Inspections
  • Ordering Materials
  • Paying Suppliers and sub-contractors
  • Ensuring Job Site Safety
  • Supervising, scheduling, record keeping, and accounting

Using anyone other than a licensed subcontractor means that you are considered an employer.

By law, employers must register with the state and the federal government.

In addition, you must file the necessary

  • Taxes and Workers Compensation
  • Disability
  • Unemployment Compensation

Hiring a professional to do remodels is not only crucial for your safety but also adds to the value of your home.

Do your research and find a reputable General Contractor if you are not 100% confident in your abilities to execute the project correctly. 

Proving Your Work Experience as an Owner-Builder

image of a contractor wearing a tool belt. blog post explains how to get the california general contractor license as an owner builder

Typically, owner-builders applying for the General Contractor license meet all the requirements except for the 4 years of journey-level experience.

Many people think they have journey-level experience.

However, doing minor fixes and handyman work is very different than overseeing a complete construction build or remodel.

Remember, applications are processed on a case-by-case basis and what works for one person may not work for another person.

When proving your experience, the CSLB may ask for documentation including:

featured image for a blog post about building permits and how to pull them for a construction project

What will happen is, someone at the CSLB reviewing your application will determine if the documentation you provided equals 4 years of journey-level experience.

It is entirely up to the state board and more specifically the person reviewing your application. 

Getting a Contractor License as an owner-builder is not impossible, but you will have to keep proper documentation of work done on your house.

See the complete guide on Owner-Builder Experience!