The California Business and Professions Code contains rules that are designed to regulate the activities of people engaged in private businesses and licensed professions. Some of its provisions apply to building contractors. Unfortunately for those who seek to comply with the law, the wording of certain sections is so vague that it is necessary to refer to court decisions to interpret it.

The California Business and Professions Code Sections 7109 and 7110

Sections 7109 and 7110 of the California Business and Professions Code can be summarized, in pertinent part, as follows:

  • A contractor who “willfully” departs from accepted trade standards or plans and specifications violates Section 7109 of the California Business and Profession Code, unless such plans and specifications were approved by the architect..

  • A contractor who “willfully” fails to comply with state or local building codes or certain health, safety, water, or labor laws violates Section 7110 of the California Business and Profession Code, even if such plans and specifications were approved by the architect.  

Violation of either of these sections can result in sanctions being imposed on the contractor by the Contractors State License Board as well as civil liability.

“Willful” vs. “Deliberate”

What, then, constitutes “willful” non-compliance? Intentional non-compliance with the law and in derogation of plans and specifications approved by the building inspector certainly qualifies as “willful.” But beyond that it gets murky, at least if you rely solely on the stator language to guide you. The California judiciary, however, has provided clarification.

In ACCO Engineered Systems, Inc. v. Contractors State License Board, the California Second District Court of Appeals ruled that a contractor’s failure to comply with applicable building codes was “willful” even if it was not “deliberate,” because they intentionally performed an act without actual knowledge that it was illegal. In other words, the contractor’s negligent failure to ascertain whether or not an action is legal still counts as a “willful” failure to comply with the law.  

Reliance on Building Inspector Approval

Is a contractor shielded from liability as long as they strictly comply with plans and specifications approved by the state building inspector? Disturbingly, the answer is no. This is even though the building inspector, as a public official, is normally shielded from liability for approving plans and specifications that are not code compliant.

The contractor’s liability is based on the construction contract, which will almost certainly require the contractor to complete the contracted work in a manner that complies with applicable building codes and the requirements of the building inspector. If these two requirements conflict, it is the requirements of the building inspector that must yield, not code requirements. The risk of non-compliance is thereby shifted from the owner and the architect to the contractor.

Take Action Today

If you have questions about California’s contractor enforcement statutes, or if you have been accused of violating one of them, call CKB Vienna today or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced construction attorneys. We serve clients in Rancho Cucamonga, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Riverside County.