Seems to be a lot of people taking money out of their home to improve the landscape or interior. Keep in mind if it includes some sort of installation and is over $500 (labor and materials) the work needs to be done by a licensed contractor or totally by the homeowner.
There always seems to be some confusion between what a gardener can legally do and what a landscape contractor can do.
Some things in the landscape that need to be done by a contractor (if the total cost is over $500):
• Gazebos and greenhouses (even kits).
• Irrigation systems.
• Landscape lighting.
• Outdoor cooking center/fireplace.
• Patios, walkways and retaining walls.
• Swimming pools, spas, and hot tubs.
• Tree trimming (for 15 feet high and above).
Most people ask why they should hire a contractor. The first question is an easy question. Contractors are required to have liability and worker’s compensation insurance. Many unlicensed persons carry neither liability nor worker’s compensation. This allows the unlicensed person to underbid a licensed contractor. This lower price can hurt you as you may become financially responsible if injuries, fire or other property damage occurs.
Since you hired an unlicensed person, then it can give an out for your homeowners’ insurance from paying. All licensed contractors are bonded with the Contractors State License Board, which can protect you if the contractor walks off the job or you have other problems with the contractor.
Legally, your gardener can install plants or sprinkler systems as long as the supplies and labor is less than $500. That $500 is the total amount they can install in one year. Also, the cost of the supplies is included no matter who purchases the supplies.
I have seen unlicensed persons tell homeowners that if the homeowner buys the materials, it does not count toward the $500 yearly maximum, but it does count. Weekly maintenance is not included in this $500 maximum.
The second part of the question — are contractors better than gardeners? — is much harder to answer. There are contractors and gardeners who are very knowledgeable, and there are contractors who really do not know what they are doing. I find many gardeners start mowing lawns, then repair a few sprinklers, then decide they know how to install sprinklers and they really do not. But I have seen better and more knowledgeable gardeners than some contractors.
If you have a large landscape, you may want the contractor to provide a payment and performance bond for the full amount of the job. This provides a financial guarantee against mechanic’s liens. A mechanic’s lien can be filed against your property by material suppliers or subcontractors if the landscaper does not pay them. A payment and performance bond can increase the cost by about 5%, but can be a benefit in a large landscape.
First, look for a licensed landscape contractor. Ask to see other jobs and, if possible, talk to the homeowners. At least ask to see pictures of jobs they have completed.
Remember that this is your home; select a landscaper who believes this. A landscaper is there to help you landscape the way you live. They need to advise you on how to plant, what plants will grow here and other technical information. They should work with the style of landscape you want. If you want a formal garden, then they should design that, not talk you out of the style.
Ask for the contractor’s license number. You can then go online or call the Contractors State License Board to check and see if the contractor is truly licensed for landscaping and is in good standing.
Most landscape contractors do not request a down payment, but if they do, it can be no more than 10% of the full price of the job or $1,000, whichever is less. If the job is over $500, the contract must be in writing. That’s the law.
The contract needs to include the name, address, license number and telephone number of the contractor. The contract should include a complete description of the work to be done, including quantities and sizes of plants, and brands and models of timers and other irrigation equipment.
Since most contractors design their own landscapes and irrigation systems, low bid is not always best. Low bid normally means smaller sized plants and fewer sprinklers. It is better to pay more for a good design.
The contract should also include guarantees on all work and materials, when the work will start and be completed. A ‘’Notice to Owner’’ should also be included. This explains California’s mechanic’s lien laws.
Lastly, look for a statement that the contractor will clean up and remove all debris after the job is completed.
After the contract is signed, any change must be agreed to in writing before the change is started. The written change must include additions or reductions in the total job price.
Hopefully this will save you some problems when hiring a landscape contractor. If a problem does occur during or after the job, contact the Contractors State License Board.