Why is California Jailing Landscapers? Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?!


California suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation and the state is under court order to release 10,000 inmates, yet state agents are jailing people who manage to find home-improvement work. After placing ads on Craigslist, California State License Board investigators go undercover posing as homeowners, when landscapers, painters, and other contractors show up, the agents give them the "To Catch a Predator" treatment.

CSLB recently announced that agents from the Statewide Investigative Fraud Team (otherwise known by the tough-sounding acronym SWIFT) had completed operation "California Blitz." SWIFTers busted 79 perps for contracting without a license, and if convicted, they could face $5,000 in fines and up to six months in jail. Fifty-two face additional fines for illegal advertising, and thirteen may be charged with requesting an excessive down payment, which can result in 60 days in jail and/or up to $10,000 in fines. SWIFT routinely conducts large-scale sting operations and proudly posts footage of the busts online. And since California is the nation's second-most extensively and onerously licensed state (as noted by an Institute for Justice report), agents always have plenty of targets.  

"CSLB and its partners in law enforcement are serious about enforcing California's consumer protection laws," says says CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Unlicensed, illegal activity that puts homeowners at risk and legitimate contractors at a competitive disadvantage will not be tolerated."

1 minute and 45 seconds long.

Follow the show on Twitter (@DontCops) and submit your nominees for next episode. Click here to watch previous episodes.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notification when new material goes live.

"Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?" is written and directed by Ted Balaker (@tedbalaker). Producer is Matt Edwards (@MattChrisEd). Opening motion graphics by Meredith Bragg. Camera by Zach Weissmueller. Music by audionautix.com and "The Contessa" is by Maurice and the Beejays (Magnatune Records). Special thanks to Sal Rodriguez.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notification when new material goes live.

NEXT: Are We Rome? Ben Powell Compares the U.S. with the Roman Empire

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Why is California Jailing Landscapers?

    Why ask why?

    What difference, at this point, does it make?

    1. Because. Fuck. You. That's. Why!

    2. Start working at home with Google. It's the most-financialy rewarding I've ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $7439 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $74, per-hour. visit this site right here http://www.Pow6.com

    3. Go sign up for welfare. That's better.

  2. "Unlicensed, illegal activity that puts homeowners at risk and legitimate contractors at a competitive disadvantage will not be tolerated."

    Crony Capitalism, at its finest.

  3. I think we all know the answer. Say it with me, now...

            1. Fucking anarchy!!!11one

  4. Freedom means asking permission and taking orders.

  5. This is what happens when you legalize marijuana.

  6. Isn't California under court order to reduce its prison population?

    1. You can't have people engaging in economic activity without permission! What are you, some sort of anarchist? Fuck!

      1. Now I feel proud that my first real job was working for a contractor who played very fast and loose with state regs.

        1. Adam Carolla has a name for people who don't pull permits or who skip licensing: Heroes.

  7. "CSLB and its partners in law enforcement are serious about enforcing California's consumer protection laws," says says CSLB Registrar Steve Sands. "Unlicensed, illegal activity that puts homeowners at risk and legitimate contractors at a competitive disadvantage will not be tolerated."

    Funny how the second part of that sentence is about protecting the consumer.

    1. They are protected from low prices.

    2. It's a competitive advantage to skirt the regulations yet libs will tell you that the regulations are not anti-business. Derp.

  8. "Shoveling without a license? You're in serious trouble, Ahhmeegoh!"

  9. Nice to see the state act as the enforcers for the contractors' mob. Just fucking pathetic. Licensing laws are bad enough. But they were never intended to be criminal laws. You get a fine for doing this not thrown in jail. Now you get thrown in jail because in this country you go to jail for everything.

    1. From the link about the licensing board

      A 15-member board appoints the Registrar of Contractors, who directs administrative policy for CSLB operations. The Board is comprised of five contractor members and 10 public members. The public members include one labor representative, one local building official, and one representative of a statewide senior citizen organization. The governor and state legislature make these appointments.

      So you have 7, arguably 8, members of the 15-member board that makes the policy being biased in favor of the protection money scheme. Deck's stacked already, notwithstanding the fact that the rest of the members are appointed by the governor, and are obviously going to be on that side as well (despite the indication that they're "public" members)

  10. This really should be understood as the face of Progressivism. This is what Progressivism is all about; arresting people trying to make an honest living.

    1. If they were honest, they'd pay the government their protection money like the 'legitimate' businesses do!

    2. No John, don't be silly. This isn't about arresting people trying to make an honest living. This is about harassing anybody who engages in any activity without the appropriate Official Stamp from the Official Bureaucrat!

      Papers! Present your Papers!

  11. A few years ago I got called for jury duty. The case I got called up for was for performing contracting work without a license. The prosecutor was going on and on and on about how the guy didn't have a liense. Said nothing about not doing promised work, or about poor quality work, just that he didn't have a license.

    Guess he noticed me rolling my eyes every time he talked, because I was one of the first to go.

    1. The good thing that came out of that experience was that they had called us upstairs to voir dire, and then released us all for lunch, telling us to come back in an hour. I managed to educate about a dozen of my fellow jurors about nullification in that time.

      (That was the second time I'd managed to do that during jury duty. Haven't been called back since)

    2. The prosecutor was going on and on and on about how the guy didn't have a liense. Said nothing about not doing promised work, or about poor quality work, just that he didn't have a license.

      The law is the law is the law.

    3. It is a shame you didn't have a better poker face. Unless the building collapsed and killed someone or you have a homeowner who can get up and talk about how they thought the guy was a competent contractor and they were charged for work that was not done competently, no way in hell would I ever convict. Never. I might convict as a stand in for fraud. But never for just not having a license.

      1. I tried, I really did. But it was just terrible.

  12. But it's okay to be an unlicensed and illegal alien. Then the
    State will protect you and even pay for you to go to school and run our elections etc etc and on and on.

      1. Racist? Nah. Stupid? Without a doubt.

        1. You're stupid, without a doubt. He's talking about what happens in reality--the place conveniently evaded by anti-American, open borders nihilists.

          Nope, Americans don't have any rights, but any third-world rotter has every right in the world to come here and exploit the Americans' suicidal policies, to get on welfare while working under the table, while American citizens are forced to pay the tab via currency debasement and the jobs they won't get, having been priced out of the market by their own government.

          Ron was speaking the truth, you are evading it.

          1. Uh, I'm pretty sure Americans also have the "right" to go on welfare and attend public schools.

            1. They don't, however, have the "right" to work for under min wage, work under false SS, work without reporting income, etc. It's way more difficult to do those things if you're on the up and up and trying to live a normal life. For illegal immigrants, it's worth the risk to do those things because the worst they usually face is deportation. They don't generally worry about how that kind of shit is going to affect their credit or what the neighbors might think.

              The moral of the story though is that they ought to do away with the rules and regs that make illegal labor attractive. Put everybody on equal competitive footing. The "stolen jobs! debased wages!" thing doesn't really fly. The rest is merely acknowledgement of practical reality in the states (CA chief among them) that have generous welfare states and don't check status. It's always kind of amazing to me that it's controversial to mention those things about illegal immigrants, but not about the born'n'bred Americans who also suck on the welfare system. As if it were some dastardly offense of polite society to suggest that poor, underclass illegal immigrants might have the same incentives and motivations as poor, underclass Americans.

    1. That is the funny part. I bet a large number of the people who are affected by this law are Hispanics. But remember, it is the Republicans who hate Mexicans.

      1. I think it is a mistake to imagine that the progressive left is at all unified or working for the same goals (besides for more power to the state, of course). Some of them like giving welfare to immigrants, some like to prop up unions, some like to grant special favors to particular industries. It is a rich tapestry of stupidity, not a coherent plan.

        And these people don't hate Mexicans. They love them as long as they can hire them for their crews at $7/hour (or whatever). The only problem is when they think that they can go mow a few lawns on their own.

    2. They really don't want illegals working, either. Their proper role is to enjoy the government cheese and vote like they're told to.

      1. Illegal immigrants can vote?

        1. it looks as though they will soon be able to practice law in California.

          Which actually might be the politicians shooting themselves in their collective foot.

          As soon as some of them pass the bar maybe we can start electing them to various legislatures where they will legislate for less.

          As soon as that comes to pass then the political class will no longer be in favor of illegal immigration.

        2. Illegal immigrants can vote?

          No. No way. Definitely not

  13. Don't Cops Have Better Things to Do?!

    Is this a serious question?

    1. As Bolton educates us upthread, the only definition of "better" is what the departmental goals and objectives are.

      If those goals and objectives include running up the score on arrests, getting EZ pleas/convictions for the DA, and servicing the well-connected rent-seekers, then I would say no, they don't have anything better to do.

  14. There are plenty of licensed contractors performing fraud all over the state, but they have paid their protection money so I guess California will look the other way.

    1. It's not that it's "protection money"; California would better spend this money EDUCATING the public on how to file a complaint against a licensed contractor if the licensee commits fraud.

  15. It should be the homeowners' responsibility if they choose to save a few bucks by using an unlicensed contractor and end up with a remodeled bathroom that is falling apart and whose faucets leak like Niagara Falls three days later with no effective recourse.

    The state should be there to only educate about the risks of using unlicensed contractors, of which there a multitude (the biggest one: it could provide a basis for the homeowner's insurance company to deny a claim) and to go after especially egregious violators and scammers. Conducting a "sting" on Craigslist seems... petty.

  16. Come on, people. In California, licenses are required for work over $500 to protect the public and to regulate the industry. Work with no permits almost certainly means no building permits either. This also likely means no workers comp insurance for those working on the home either. Ask a homeowner who had illegal work done or had an unlicensed contractor injured while working on their home if they wish they had been protected. People have lost their homes over illegal contractors who are 'just trying to make an honest living.' Most of those caught in a sting are only cited unless they have an outstanding warrant, drugs, etc. Its not like many are even arrested, so let's not get carried away. The goal is to get these guys licensed and in compliance. This protects consumers and valid, legal contracting businesses who are abiding with building laws.

    1. Let's suppose there are two unlicensed contractors - one is actually pretty decent and the other is an ass. Homeowner 1 contracts with the former, and saves a good chunk of change (in comparison to the cost of a licensed contractor) to redo their kitchen. Everything is peachy. Homeowner 2 gets the unlicensed contractor that is an ass, and things go south for them. Question: Why is it the state's responsibility to protect Homeowner 2 from him/herself, while at the same time inflicting harm to Homeowner 1 (by potentially preventing a mutually beneficial contract)? At one time, I was a professional builder. I started out doing side jobs prior to being licensed by the State. The quality of my work was unchanged by the licensing. Furthermore, the licensing is not only a protection racket for those that are licensed, but also for those that enable the licensing. I still have my builder's license, but am now required to complete so many educational seminars each year to maintain it - a requirement implemented at the behest of companies that sell the educational service...

      1. By the way - I bet one cannot even find a good correlation between licensing and quality of work (at least in trades like construction). If you want good work, don't bother asking if the contractor is licensed... ask for references, check Angie's List, etc.

    2. This also likely means...

      Nice straw man you got there.

    3. If it's only work over $500 that requires teh license, then what the small operators should do is present a bill to the customer every time they get up to $500 and then start a new job where the old one left off.

      Also, since it is called a "contractors license" is it OK to work for time materials with no contract?

    4. Work with no permits almost certainly means no building permits either.

      And don't fucking get me started on building permits.

      In any case, you are missing the point. The problem is that this licensing exists at all. There shouldn't be any such thing as an illegal contractor. Many states don't require contractors to be licensed and things work just fine. There are lots of shitty licensed contractors and lots of very skilled people who are not licensed. The licensing is just a racket to protect established contractors and to enrich the companies who make the training manuals and certification tests.
      Building codes are the same fucking thing. I could perhaps accept an argument for some basic safety standards for commercial construction and homes built to sell. But the codes are maintained by companies who make their money by selling new code books every year, so guess what? Every year there are new layers of bullshit that you have to comply with.

      1. I rent a shop space down the street in an old fruit packing plant. There's a bathroom on the loading dock that can only be accessed by walking up 6 or so stairs. And there, on both sides of the toilet, are those grab handles for handicapped people. THAT is what building codes are all about.

      2. Many states don't require contractors to be licensed...

        That shocks me a bit. I thought all 50 states had licensing laws. I've only lived in 2 states, but I know they both do.

        The licensing is just a racket to protect established contractors and to enrich the companies who make the training manuals and certification tests.

        More the former than the latter, I suspect. In the absence of state licensing, those companies would just run a private certification racket themselves. It's always nice when you've got mandatory customers, but with consumers and insurance companies being as terrified as they are about everything I'm sure they'd still do a brisk business. Which I'd be fine with. Works great for ASTM, UL, ISO, etc etc. Then you've got real choice. Hire a contractor without "Contractor Safety Co" certification and your home insurance won't cover you (which is their prerogative), but you can save a few bucks if you're willing to take the risk. Contractors don't have to submit to the state just to get a job. Everybody wins.

  17. I really fucking hate licensing like this. Especially for landscaping and building. Those have always been trades that you could easily learn on the job and eventually start doing things independently without the need for a major investment and make a decent living.
    I am glad to live in a state where you still can just go out and do things like that on your own without permission from the state, but even here it is getting worse with requirements to be certified to do anything that might involve removing lead paint and things like that.

  18. it seems to me lately they don't have anything better to do...just add it to the list of shooting innocent bystanders and killing an unarmed man that was only looking for help...I only wish I could anticipate that these things would change...

  19. First of all, no, they do not have anything that they think is better to do. They are collecting revenue while pretending to "protect and serve". Second, by "puts...legitimate contractors at a competitive disadvantage..." I guess they really mean "leveling the playing field"?

  20. excessive down payments? If people are stupid enough to pay that it's on them.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.