CA: handymen vs contractors

14 Replies

Hey all,

Just wanted to clarify but in California if I have repairs that cost over $500 including parts and labor, I need to hire a licensed contractor to do the work. If it's under $500 (including parts and labor) I can just hire a handyman for the work.

I have repair work that needs to be done post water damage remediation in my kitchen, bedroom and dining area. This includes drywall/texturing/paint, re-hanging cabinetry, installing baseboards, replacing carpet padding and tacking/stretching carpet back in place, replacing an ice maker box valve, as well as painting (though we may just do this ourselves). I had a couple handymen come out who I don't think are licensed through the state of California, and both quoted well over $500 for the work to be done. I wouldn't want to hire these guys, even if they're offering lower prices, at the risk of either of us getting in trouble.

Is it probably a best bet just to avoid/pass up on going with these guys in favor of using a licensed contractor? So far all the quotes I've received have been between $1200-$1900 for the scope of work so this definitely isn't a $500 job. 

I am a licensed CA HVAC contractor and it is my understanding that the law applies to contractors, not owner/builders. As an owner/builder you can act as the contractor if it is your primary residence. Without a current license I am not allowed to contract above $500 but I think this is a CA law that is designed to protect homeowners from sub-par or non-performing contractors. It is also a way for the state to bring in revenue. Here is a link to the CSLB website about owner builders. 

http://www.cslb.ca.gov/Consumers/Know_Risks_Of_Own...

This is a grey area for the owner/builder. You do risk not having recourse with CSLB with an unlicensed guy but it might save you money. I think it is a risk that may be worth it if you are saving a considerable amount. For the type of work you are describing it isn't a huge risk. If you were doing structural or mechanical work, I would say you should use a licensed professional and pull permits. For what you need done, using a handyman should be fine (no license no permit). Just get a guy with good references, licensed or unlicensed. Good luck!

Hello Jeremy,
I’m sorry to hear about the unfortunate situation.
From the items you listed, which sounds like a 4-5day job, plumbing seems to be the only permit needed. If you don’t plan on getting too involved, I would recommend sticking with a contractor. Choosing the right one can definitely provide you piece of mind which justifies the expense.

However, you do have the option to pull the permit as owner-builder, but would leave you scheduling the subcontractors performing the work. A skilled handyman could perform the rest of the items needed, after the plumber has made the repairs. It would save you money going that route overall.

Let me know if you need a more detailed answer...

Best of luck! 👍🏽

Originally posted by @Brian Rhodes :

I am a licensed CA HVAC contractor and it is my understanding that the law applies to contractors, not owner/builders. As an owner/builder you can act as the contractor if it is your primary residence. Without a current license I am not allowed to contract above $500 but I think this is a CA law that is designed to protect homeowners from sub-par or non-performing contractors. It is also a way for the state to bring in revenue. Here is a link to the CSLB website about owner builders. 

http://www.cslb.ca.gov/Consumers/Know_Risks_Of_Own...

This is a grey area for the owner/builder. You do risk not having recourse with CSLB with an unlicensed guy but it might save you money. I think it is a risk that may be worth it if you are saving a considerable amount. For the type of work you are describing it isn't a huge risk. If you were doing structural or mechanical work, I would say you should use a licensed professional and pull permits. For what you need done, using a handyman should be fine (no license no permit). Just get a guy with good references, licensed or unlicensed. Good luck!

I guess this is where I'm confused... if I don't hire a licensed contractor, according to the article, it seems as though I now have to go pulling permits and also my arrangement with the handyman may now be considered as an employee/employer relationship? 

It seems there are risks associated with this outside of doing the job well/right that might need to be factored in here - another person recounted that they hired a carpenter (presumably unlicensed) who did great work but deep into the job had a relapse (drugs) and attempted to extort him. Of course, the guys I'm looking at who appear to be unlicensed have great Yelp reviews haha. 

Originally posted by @Danery Amador :

Hello Jeremy,
I’m sorry to hear about the unfortunate situation.
From the items you listed, which sounds like a 4-5day job, plumbing seems to be the only permit needed. If you don’t plan on getting too involved, I would recommend sticking with a contractor. Choosing the right one can definitely provide you piece of mind which justifies the expense.

However, you do have the option to pull the permit as owner-builder, but would leave you scheduling the subcontractors performing the work. A skilled handyman could perform the rest of the items needed, after the plumber has made the repairs. It would save you money going that route overall.

Let me know if you need a more detailed answer...

Best of luck! 👍🏽

Thanks! The contractors who have come out so far have estimated 1-3 days but they might be too optimistic. The area of  work isn't super expansive.

So one of your suggestions is to ultimately have a plumber do the plumbing work separately and then have a handyman come in to do the drywall, baseboards, cabinetry and carpeting?

Would I want to get the plumbing taken care of *first* and then the drywall? This is an ice maker box which is currently nailed to a firewall (which the drywall I think was partially glued to originally - I don't see any screw holes into the firewall at least from where the drywall sat over it).

Is replacing the ice maker valve box something I should consider having a go at myself? I replaced the toilet water supply line valves myself when I replaced my toilets a while ago... 

Yeah, the state wants you to pull a permit for everything; replacing a toilet or painting a wall. The purpose of permits is to uphold safety and construction codes/standards. My opinion is that if you doing it right (to code) and not trying to cheat, you can use a handyman without permits. Sorry I missed the plumbing for the ice maker (still not a big deal for a good handyman, still no permit). Yelp reviews are actually one of the best ways to tell if someone is good or not (actual customer ratings and comments). I do agree with @Danery Amador in that you have to balance your construction experience (to supervise a handyman's work) and time available with the cost and convenience of a licensed contractor. In regard to the handyman being considered an employee, I doubt any handyman is clued in enough to sue for workers comp. The reality about the license and the permits is that if you don't have a construction dumpster in your front yard and a major rehab going on, you can fly under the radar with the city enforcement. Just make sure the work is done correctly and to code. Otherwise, bite the bullet and hire a contractor. There are just as many bad contractors as there are handymen, and yes, drug relapse does happen:)

See if you can find the valve box replacement on YouTube. People are posting video of every type of repair. See if it's something you want to try yourself and save the plumber cost.

Originally posted by @Brian Rhodes :

See if you can find the valve box replacement on YouTube. People are posting video of every type of repair. See if it's something you want to try yourself and save the plumber cost.

 I'm wondering if I should just cap it off instead haha. I wasn't even using the thing anyway since our fridge is an old cheapo fridge. 

Even better. You can always do it if you upgrade the fridge.

Yes Sir, have the plumber repair the leak/ replace the valve. A handyman can work on the drywall, texture, paint, baseboards, & cabinetry.

Plumbing would need to be done before hand. I’m sure once you start prying around, you’ll find out how the drywall was secured. But I would keep the patches to a minimum, the damage would dictate that.

Throughout my years of flipping, I’ve learned plumbing myself, along with other aspects of construction. It’s not difficult to do, you just need to be correct with your soldering. It is very similar to replacing a toilet valve and if you’ve done that, you could replace the ice maker valve...

Originally posted by @Danery Amador :

Yes Sir, have the plumber repair the leak/ replace the valve. A handyman can work on the drywall, texture, paint, baseboards, & cabinetry.

Plumbing would need to be done before hand. I’m sure once you start prying around, you’ll find out how the drywall was secured. But I would keep the patches to a minimum, the damage would dictate that.

Throughout my years of flipping, I’ve learned plumbing myself, along with other aspects of construction. It’s not difficult to do, you just need to be correct with your soldering. It is very similar to replacing a toilet valve and if you’ve done that, you could replace the ice maker valve...

Thanks! Well in this case the entire wall is exposed so no need to make any holes in the drywall. The current ice maker  valve box is attached to the firewall/plywood with nails so it doesn't seem too hard to remove. I'm not sure if it's a compression fitting or if it was soldered though. I *think* it might be a compression fitting. I replaced the toilet valves with compression fittings as well - if I recall correctly, those too were originally compression fittings... well, if they were soldered I'm pretty certain I wouldn't have been able to pull them off!

Here are pictures of the valve/box: https://photos.app.goo.gl/dlF5q7oAQc13b5k82

Thanks for the pics, that helps explain... It seems easy enough, a little bit of blow grease and you can get the job done. If that is what the only leak you have, you won't have to worry about any soldering then. You have a good area to make sure the compression-fitting seals tight before you close it up.

Originally posted by @Danery Amador :

Thanks for the pics, that helps explain... It seems easy enough, a little bit of blow grease and you can get the job done. If that is what the only leak you have, you won't have to worry about any soldering then. You have a good area to make sure the compression-fitting seals tight before you close it up.

Thanks! I've heard the push caps aren't really a great permanent solution though and most contractors/handymen only use them for temporary caps. If I'm going to be having drywall hung over the capped off supply line, would it be a better idea just to have a plumber solder a copper cap on the end of it?

Since the valve is already there, I would just replace it and keep using it or put it to use. If you ever plan on selling, it is a nice feature to have for buyers. I put one in every home I renovate. If you have no interest in doing so, then yes, I would definitely find a permanent solution to cap off the line. Soldering a tube cap would resolve that. You don't want that problem occurring again... 👍🏽

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