The A, B and C’s of Contracting and Self-Performing Work Under California’s Contractor’s License Law

The California Contractors State License Board issues licenses in three general classifications:

  1. Class A – General Engineering Contractors;
  2. Class B – General Building Contractors; and
  3. Class C – Specialty Contractors  of which there are currently 42  different Class C specialty contractors license types.

Each of these license classifications has separate contracting rules, and rules regarding when work can be self-performed, which for many can be confusing.

Minor Work Exception

One important (albeit “minor”)  exception is that no contractor’s license is required no matter what type of work is being performed if the project has a value of less than $500. Known as the “minor work exception,” the exception is a project-based, not work-based, exception. Thus, for example, if a project owner is remodeling their kitchen at a cost of $6,000 and the cost of doing the flooring is only $300, the person doing the flooring would need to have a contractor’s license in the appropriate classification since the aggregate cost of the work is $500 or more.

Class A – General Engineering Contractors

Class A – General Engineering Contractors may only enter into direct contracts and subcontracts for projects requiring specialized engineering knowledge and skills and may only self-perform work that falls within its license classification.

Class C – Specialty Contractors

Class C – Specialty Contractors, like a Class A – General Engineering Contractor, may only enter into direct contracts and subcontracts for projects requiring the special skills of its license, but unlike a Class A contractor, a Class C contractor may self-perform work that falls within its license classification or that is incidental and supplemental to the performance of the work for which it is licensed.

Class B – General Building Contractors

Class B – General Building Contractors, unlike both a Class A – General Engineering Contractor and a Class C – Specialty Contractor, may enter into direct contracts and subcontracts involving: (1) Projects involving framing or carpentry only; (2) Projects involving two or more unrelated trades other than framing or carpentry (i.e., framing or carpentry cannot count toward the two or more unrelated trades); or (3) Projects in which the Class B – General Contractor holds the appropriate Class C specialty license.

In addition, unlike both a Class A – General Engineering Contractor and a Class C – Specialty Contractor, a Class B – General Building Contractor may self-perform any work (even work not involving framing or carpentry) except for work for which a C-16 – Fire Protection or C-57 Well Drilling Contractor’s licenses would be required.

21 Responses to “The A, B and C’s of Contracting and Self-Performing Work Under California’s Contractor’s License Law”

  1. david lau

    I work for a local government agency. I heard that a C-License contractor can enter into a contract as a “General Contractor” as long as the scope of work under its specialty license is more than 50% of the total contract value and he/she subcontracts the remaining work to other specialty license contractors. Is that true? Thanks in advance.

    • Garret Murai

      Hi David. Unfortunately, there are no bright lines as to what extent a contractor with a “C” license can perform work outside of its license classification, including no bright line rule that “C” contractor can perform work outside of its license classification so long as “more than 50%” of its work is within its license classification. Section 834 of the California Code of Regulations states that a contractor with a “C” license “shall not act in the capacity of a contractor in any classification other than the one in which he/she is classified except on work incidental or supplemental to the performance of a contract in a classification in which any contractor is licensed by the Board.” Section 831 of the California Code of Regulations in turn defines “incidental and supplemental” as “work that “is essential to accomplish the work in which the contractor is classified.” So, in short, a contractor with a “C” license can perform work that is outside of its license classification so long as it is incidental and supplemental to the licensed work, and it is incidental and supplemental if it is essential to accomplish the work in which the contractor is classified. Not particularly helpful if you ask me.

  2. Rudy

    Can a C-61/ D-64 contractor, subcontract any trade that might be needed in a recon job? Still trying to figure the limits to a C License.

    • Garret Murai

      Hi Rudy. This is a tough question because it essentially asks what can a D-64 contractor do when a D-64 contractor can do anything that isn’t already subject to a license classification. According to the California Code of Regulations, a D-64 Non-Specialized Contractor can “install[ ], modif[y], maintain[ ] or repair[ ] new products and/or new installations” which is quite broad, but it can only do so to the extent that the work is “not defined in any section herein or defined in any license classification authorized by the Board” which is quite restrictive. I’m not quite sure what you mean by “recon job,” but if you mean a remodeling project, such as altering or adding to an existing structure, I don’t think, for example, that a D-64 contractor can either perform itself or sub out roofing. You couldn’t perform the roofing work itself because you don’t have a C-39 roofing license. Similarly, you wouldn’t be able to sub out the work because you would need a Class B general contractor’s license to sub out work, and then only if it involves two or more trades other than carpentry or framing.

  3. Phil

    Hi Garret, Great blog, I am a long-time reader of your work, thanks for all you share with us here!
    For road/highway work, with a Class A contractor prime, is the Prime allowed to perform traffic control without a C-31? And does it matter if they are performing the traffic control for their own forces or if a subcontractor is working within their traffic control? An example I see often is a full road closure for a bridge replacement; the prime Class A comes in and does flagging/Krail placement, and then closes a road for their subcontractor that is doing the bridge work; or the Class A handles lane closures for an electrical subcontractor; is that allowed without a C-31?(and is there any case law on this?)

    • Garret Murai

      Hi Phil. No case that I am aware of has addressed whether a Class A engineering contractor can perform C-31 traffic control work. About the closest case you’ll find on Class A engineering contractors performing Class C specialty work is Pacific Caisson & Shoring, Inc. v. Bernards Bros. Inc., 198 Cal.App.4th 681. in which the Court of Appeal that a Class A engineering contractor could perform C-12 (paving and earthwork) work. To me, there are two issues at tension with one another. In the Pacific Caisson case, the Court of Appeals looked at both license classifications, and found that the work of C-12 contractors was subsumed within the work of Class A contractors. In other words, a Class A contractor could perform C-12 work, but a C-12 contractor could not perform Class A work. Under the non-exclusive list of work that Class A contractors can perform, however, one can argue that traffic controls or anything closely resembling traffic controls can nowhere be found. However, countering this, is that contractors can perform “incidental and supplemental” work, and a Class A contractor might be able to successfully argue that traffic controls is “incidental” to the highway, street and roadway work it is allowed to do under its Class A license. In short, I don’t have a clear cut answer, although my guess is that traffic controls would be considered “incidental and supplemental” work.

  4. Angel

    Can a class B contractor install a interior metal door and build a metal cage anchored into concrete (for storing cannabis product) on a commercial building? Trying to find the most suitable contractor for this type of job as the contractor in question mainly does home construction.

  5. Will

    Our company has a Class A contractor license for CA. We will be doing electrical work for small 5G poles. Does the Class A cover electrical or do we also need to obtain a C10 license?

    • Garret Murai

      Hi Will. As you’ve seen there is some subjectivity in appropriate license classification but perhaps no more than for Class A Engineering Contractors who are licensed to perform work related to “fixed works requiring specialized engineering knowledge and skill.” You may want to contact the CSLB but my sense is that you would need a C-10 Electrical Contractor’s license.

  6. Mimi Nielsen

    I have run into a problem with a local building department that is requiring a C-Licensed contractor to do the excavation on a home replacement building site. The engineer claims that this is a state requirement. However, according to your blog, a B-licensed general contractor should be able to self-perform such work since it does not require a C-16 or C-57 license. Can you guide me towards further information?
    Thank you,

    • Garret Murai

      Hi Mimi. I don’t know anything about your project or how it was permitted but you may want to ask the building department if they are requiring a Class A Engineering Contractor to oversee the excavation work.

  7. Adam Hanson

    Is there anything in public contract code/law which prevents a owner/RMO/CEO of multiple construction companies from priming a project which one company and listing one of his other companies as a subcontractor?

    Absent a provisions specifically excluding this practice would open the door for a prime contractor to list himself as a subcontractor. As owner of both the prime and subcontracting companies, one could use the listed subcontracting company to still “perform” the work as state on bid day utilizing second tier subs who would not have been required to be listed on bid day.

    • Garret Murai

      I think you would need to be careful here. Public Contract Code section 7106 requires that you sign a non-collusion affidavit and while the non-collusion affidavit does not expressly prohibit you (as the prime) from using a listed subcontractor (who you also own or control), an argument could be made that you submitted an artificially low bid as a listed subcontractor, and this could be grounds for a bid dispute or other claim.

  8. Jennifer

    Is there a certain percentage of the work that a B License contractor must self perform? If so, what is the PCC?

    • Garret Murai

      Hi Jennifer. Sorry for the late reply. There is no minimum percentage of work that a Class B General Contractor must self-perform. In fact, it is not uncommon for Class B General Contractors to not self-perform any work, in which case, they are referred to as “paper contractors.”

  9. Jenny

    I’m confused- so does this mean that if I hired a contractor with a B license for a $20,000 bathroom remodel, is he required to hire a class C contractor to install the tile? I recently had my bathroom redone and the class B general contractor did not subcontract out the job of tiling and it turned out terribly and is already falling apart. I’m wondering if I have a viable claim against him. The tile was Carrera marble for the shower and ceramic on the floor. The grout is already cracking due to him not using flexible caulking in the corners and at the seams, tiles were chipped in the process due to him using a dull blade on his saw and it just looks terrible. The whole thing needs to be redone and I’m tapped out financially. I’m just wondering if he was allowed under his class B license to do the installation in the first place?

    • Garret Murai

      Jenny. I can’t give you legal advice and I don’t know what the scope of work was on your bathroom remodel, but if it was a $20,000 remodel, it sounds like involved at least two unrelated building trades or crafts other than framing and carpentry. If so, the contractor would be permitted to do this work under his Class B General Contractor license. Your remedies would be to file a complaint with the Contractors State License Board, make a claim against the contractor’s license bond, and/or file a lawsuit against the contractor. Of course, pragmatically speaking, you may want to reach out to the contractor to see if he will remedy the situation without the need to resort to taking legal action.

      • Jenny

        Thank you for your fast response. I guess I am a little confused with what exactly “two unrelated building trades or crafts…” means. Can you explain that a little further to me? Just for background purposes- the other contractors that were brought in during the job were the electrician, the glass guy for the shower and the guy that did the hot mop. All other things were done by the contractor. This remodel involved completely gutting the bathroom down to the bones, if that helps.

        Also, if I may ask you one more thing- as it turns out, the guy that he used to install the shower glass has a suspended license. The huge glass panel has moved and is now off-center. I sent a picture to the contractor who agrees that this is a problem and he said that he will get in touch with the glass guy. However I don’t think I want to have this man back in my house if he did such a poor job in the first place and it turns out that his license is suspended. The contractor mentioned that his remedy was going to be using some brackets to hold it up or something to that effect. It doesn’t sound like any of them know why they’re doing. Is a class b contractor allowed to subcontract to specialty contractors with suspended licenses?

      • Garret Murai

        The Contractors State License Board recognizes 44 different license classifications from Class B General Contractors to Class C-36 Plumbing Contractors. “Two unrelated building trades or crafts” refers to two classifications other than framing or carpentry. And yes, under Business and Professions Code section 7114, it is illegal for a contractor subcontract to subcontractor with a suspended license so long as the work being performed requires a license and has a value of $500 or more. If your damages are $10K or less you can file a small claims court action which is relatively fast and cost effective.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS

%d bloggers like this: