If you’re a licensed B1 contractor in California, you probably know all about Cal B&P; 7159. It’s caused more than a little grief for more than a few California contractors, some of them now former California contractors. Cal B&P; 7159 is Sacramento’s effort to rewrite every contract for home improvement, remodeling and repair work throughout the state – adding about eight pages to even the shortest agreement.

If there was an award for legislative ineptitude, California would be among the prime contenders. Their $billion budget deficits put California in a class by itself. But this legislature that can’t shoot straight has no trouble targeting home improvement contractors. Cal B&P; 7159 is the result.A California contractor put it to me this way: “I’m a contractor. I’m not a lawyer. I shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer before taking on a kitchen or bath job. I value my reputation as a builder and have nothing but satisfied clients. That’s the best any contractor can do. But those guys at the state license board are looking for a way to pull my B1 ticket. Until that happens, I’m going to go on doing business on a handshake – and keep my fingers crossed.”

I can empathize – on two grounds. First, nothing the California legislature has done will add to the list of good, reputable, honest home improvement contractors. Second, I’m a California attorney and I agree completely – the crew for a kitchen or bath job shouldn’t require a lawyer.

My impression is that many – perhaps most – California residential contractors simply ignore the law, like my friend who’s keeping his fingers crossed. Their feeling: “The law is simply too complex and asks too much. Only a few dozen contractors get their license suspended each month. My chance of skating by is pretty good.”

True. But there’s another perspective. Suppose your homeowner client turns out to be a real nutcase. Or, suppose your client is a perfect angel but runs short of cash before the job is done. What then? Most likely, your dispute will end up on the desk of two attorneys, yours and your client’s.

When a job goes bad, your contract better be good.

Anything less and your client’s attorney is going to turn you every which way but loose. Doing home improvement work without a letter-perfect contract is like driving without a license. Nothing bad happens until something goes wrong. Then it can go very wrong.

If you don’t like the idea of finishing jobs and not getting paid, my advice is simple. Get your client’s signature on an enforceable contract before breaking ground.

If you’re serious about drafting contracts that meet requirements of California law – and also want to tilt contract bias in your favor — I can recommend California Construction Contract Writer.