Are you considering becoming a general contractor, but worried about whether your criminal record will prevent you from getting your contractor’s license? You’re not alone. Let’s say you’ve been working as a handyman for a while now, and you want to take that next step to get licensed so you can start making really good money. You want to be able to take on the big jobs and further your career. You’re willing to go through the classes necessary and to take the examination, but you’re thinking: “What about the background check? What if I go through all of that effort and spend all of that money, and then I get denied for my contractor’s license because of my criminal record?”
We can help. First, let’s take a look at the background check process for getting a general contractor’s license. General contractors in the State of California are licensed by the Contractor’s State License Board, called the CSLB. What sorts of things will the CSLB look for when determining whether to issue you a general contractor’s license? Let’s go right to the source and see what the CSLB says about background checks.
The CSLB says: “Just because you have been convicted of a crime does not automatically mean your application will be denied. CSLB’s Criminal Background Unit (CBU) reviews all criminal convictions to determine if the crime is substantially related to the duties, qualifications, and/or functions of a contractor. Since no two conviction records are the same, they are reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”
What does that mean? Essentially, you have to think about what duties a general contractor performs, and figure out whether you think the CSLB would think the crime you were convicted of would pose a risk to the public.
Which Crimes are “Substantially Related” to a General Contractor’s Duties?
Let’s think about the things that a general contractor is expected to do. Apart from the actual construction work itself, a general contractor will be meeting with clients, hiring subcontractors for certain work, receiving payments from clients, paying subcontractors, ordering and managing building materials, and working in clients’ homes or businesses. A general contractor might be meeting with clients in a vacant property, and would likely have access to vacant properties when the clients aren’t there.
Starting with those key job functions, we can get an idea of what the CSLB will be looking for. A general contractor needs to be trustworthy enough to meet with clients alone, in their own homes, or in places away from the public eye. A general contractor also has to be trustworthy enough to have access to vacant properties when clients aren’t there. In addition, a general contractor needs to be responsible enough to handle money and pay subcontractors in a timely manner, so that clients aren’t stuck with mechanic’s liens on their homes from unpaid subcontractors after a job is completed.
With all of that in mind, we can safely assume that the types of convictions that would pose a problem for a general contractor’s license would be convictions for theft or embezzlement (property crimes), or convictions involving violence against people. The CSLB probably won’t want to give a contractor’s license to a thief or a violent person.
If I Have a Criminal Record in One of Those Areas, Can I Still Get a Contractor’s License?
Maybe. One thing is for sure: you shouldn’t give up on your goal of getting a contractor’s license just because you have a criminal record. Let’s look at what some of your options are.
You could try applying anyway, and just hope for the best. On your general contractor license application, you have to disclose all misdemeanor and felony convictions. While that may be uncomfortable, try to see it as an opportunity to try to explain the circumstances of your conviction. Your goal is to sell yourself to the CSLB by explaining why you don’t pose a current threat to the public, even though your record on paper isn’t perfect.
Or better, you can try to get your problematic convictions expunged before submitting your application. Will that guarantee that the CSLB will give you a contractor’s license? No. But we think an expungement can make a big difference. We’ll explain why in the next section.
Why Would Getting My Criminal Record Expunged Help Me Get a General Contractor’s License?
If you get your criminal record expunged, you will still have to disclose your prior convictions to the CSLB in your application. So why would an expungement make a difference? Because an expunged conviction says that you did your time. You completed your sentence and fulfilled all of the conditions of your probation. You can’t get an expungement if you haven’t done all of that.
An expungement also tells the world that the courts consider you to be rehabilitated. Not everyone can get an expungement. You have to meet certain criteria. And ultimately, a judge has to approve it. Judges are just people, but they are people in a very important position. They’re generally smart, educated, and in a very respected position of authority. Getting the sign-off from someone in a black robe is meaningful.
The CSLB isn’t required to accept a judge’s determination that you’re rehabilitated. However, you can see why the agency would give it a lot of weight. If you have convinced a judge that you’ve learned your lesson, odds are good that the CSLB will agree.
When you apply for your contractor’s license, you’ll need to disclose whether you’ve had any misdemeanor or felony convictions. Click here for the form the CSLB requires you to fill out about your prior convictions.
It’s a lot of detail. But remember that this is your chance to try to sell yourself and show that you don’t pose a threat. You should also attach evidence of your rehabilitation. What sort of evidence can you attach? Declarations from character witnesses would probably help. Evidence that you’ve attended volunteer programs, anger management classes, or AA meetings can help, too. But we think the best evidence you can attach is a copy of the court order granting your expungement.
How Can I Clean Up My Criminal Record?
You can try to expunge your record yourself, if you like. We don’t really recommend that you try it yourself because it can be pretty complicated. If you want to read about how to do that and decide whether it’s something you want to tackle, click here.
If you don’t feel comfortable expunging your own record, contact us. We can evaluate your case and help you determine if an expungement is right for you.
What if I Have a Felony? Can I Get that Expunged?
If you have a felony, the situation is a little more complicated. You still have some options, though. If your felony conviction is a “wobbler,” you might be able to petition to have it reduced to a misdemeanor first, and then you could try to expunge it. Otherwise, you could apply for a pardon with the governor of California. Either way, we can help.
Because felonies are typically more complicated, we won’t go into too much detail about it here. But if you have a felony conviction that you’re worried about, give us a call at (949) 252-2634 and we can walk you through possible solutions.