TLDR: Landscaping is a lucrative industry in the United States, with a market value of $97.8 billion. However, you must obtain the California C-27 landscaping contractor license to tap into the potential of the California market, which is the largest in the country. This license is necessary to bid and work on landscaping projects worth over $500 in California. While acquiring the C-27 license involves a thorough process and effort, we are here to guide you through it and help you establish yourself as a contractor quickly.
Gaining the C-27 landscaping contractor license in California can be a challenging process. But it is a vital requirement for individuals working in the landscaping industry. To be eligible for the mandatory CSLB landscaping contractor exam, aspiring candidates must have at least four years of recent work experience within the past decade. Once you successfully pass the exam mentioned above, you will be awarded the C-27 landscaping license. This license is non-transferable and only valid within the state of California.
A landscaping contractor is responsible for construction work on public and private gardens. These projects aim to enhance the aesthetics, architecture, horticulture, or functionality of the surroundings within or adjacent to a building or plot of land. Additionally, a landscaping contractor prepares and levels land areas to accommodate various architectural, horticultural, and decorative treatments or arrangements.
In California, every contractor, including landscaping contractors, must acquire a license from the Contractors State License Board (CSLB). The primary objective of the CSLB is to safeguard Californians by carefully assessing and registering construction businesses that charge more than $500 for their services. The CSLB ensures that citizens get quality contracting services and that the contractors act within their regulations and in good faith. The CSLB is responsible for overseeing the application and examination procedures for contractors. It also maintains a publicly accessible database that contains the license numbers of both active and inactive contractors.
Obtaining a C-27 landscaping contractor license in California is necessary for several reasons:
To obtain a landscaping license in California, you must demonstrate at least four years of experience as a journeyman, foreman, supervisor, or contractor in the landscaping industry within the past ten years. You also need to pass the required exam for the license. If you charge more than $500 for landscaping services, you must hold a C-27 Landscaping Contractor License. Additionally, a $15,000 surety bond is necessary to secure the license. After successfully passing the exam, you will be granted a C-27 landscaping contractor license. This license is exclusive to California and cannot be transferred to other states.
Here are the steps you should follow to obtain your license.
To be eligible for the exam, candidates must have four years of experience as a landscaping journeyman. A "journeyman" is a proficient worker with full qualifications, capable of independently performing tasks in the trade without supervision, or someone who has completed an apprenticeship program. Like other CSLB licenses, obtaining the C-27 license mandates apprenticeship training or qualification through a Joint Examination Board.
This requirement ensures the skill and competence of California landscapers. Spending four years in the landscaping industry helps you become familiar with the field's specific challenges, best practices, and trends. It provides an opportunity to gain extensive industry knowledge, encompassing areas such as plant selection, irrigation systems, soil varieties, pest control, and sustainable landscaping methods. By acquiring journeyman-level experience, applicants encounter various landscaping challenges and learn how to overcome them. It also provides hands-on experience in dealing with different situations, such as site constraints, weather conditions, and client preferences.
Once you have acquired the necessary training, complete the Certification of Work Experience from CSLB and include it in your application packet.
To verify your experience claims, you must be endorsed by a trustworthy individual who has firsthand knowledge of your work. This could be an employer, contractor, foreman/supervisor, fellow employee, other journeyman, union representative, building inspector, architect, engineer, or homeowner. The person certifying your experience should have observed the tasks you have performed and is required to complete the experience certification section of the application.
Here is a list of Acceptable Supporting Experience Documentation that you can use to determine what documents to submit to prove your experience.
The next step will be completing the Application for Original Contractor's License. Ensure you read the instructions carefully because an incomplete application will lead to delays or even your application getting rejected. After you submit your application, the CSLB will send you a letter of acknowledgment containing an application fee number and a four-digit PIN. These two pieces of information are necessary for checking the status of your application.
You are ready to apply once you have confirmed you have completed your application and included all the requirements. Submit your filled in application, the $450 application processing fee, and all required documents to:
Contractors State License Board
P.O. Box 26000
Sacramento, CA 95826-0026
Payments at CSLB's Sacramento office may be made by cash (exact change only), check, or money order.
Upon acceptance of your application, you will receive a with a fingerprinting live scan packet. This step is necessary for the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) to conduct a criminal background check. Your fingerprints will be cross-checked against the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to determine if any criminal history exists.
All applicants for a license, as well as officers, partners, owners, responsible managing employees, and home improvement salesperson applicants, must undergo fingerprinting. However, individuals currently licensed with CSLB and not making any changes to their license, as well as joint venture license applicants, are exempt from this requirement.
Once CSLB deems your application complete, each individual listed on the application will receive instructions on how to submit their fingerprints, along with a "Request for Live Scan Service" form (BCII 8016).
You need to fill out all the required fields in the third section (applicant information) of the above form and bring three copies of the completed form to a Live Scan station. The Live Scan station will process and submit your fingerprints to the DOJ and the FBI. You can find Live Scan fingerprinting services at local police and sheriff departments, as well as other public Live Scan sites.
A listing of Live Scan locations is available here.
Once your application is approved, you will be issued a Notice to Appear for Examination. You can expect to receive this notice at least three weeks before the scheduled examination date. It is crucial to prepare thoroughly for the CSLB exam.
When attending the testing center, make sure to bring valid photo identification. Please note that personal calculators, cell phones, pagers, and other electronic devices are not allowed in the testing area. The examination itself spans a duration of three and a half hours.
The examination consists of two sections: the first section focuses on contractor law and consists of 115 multiple-choice questions, while the second section concentrates on landscaping and also consists of 115 multiple-choice questions. Both parts of the exam are taken on a computer at the designated location. The test is administered in English, but if you arrange it beforehand, you are permitted to bring a translator.
The landscaping portion of the exam is split into six major sections:
We recommend using the California Contractor License Law & Reference Book as a study guide for the first part of your exam. Check out our CSLB exam guide for more details on how to prep. For the land scaping portion, we recommend the Landscape Construction 3rd edition textbook released by Cengage.
After successfully passing the exam, you will receive a bond and fee notification form at the testing site. This form will outline the requirements you must fulfill to obtain your license.
One of the requirements is obtaining a California contractor license bond with a bond amount of $25,000. This surety bond is a financial safeguard for contractor clients and the public. The bond ensures California contractors meet their contractual obligations, adhere to applicable laws and regulations, and conduct business ethically and responsibly.
To obtain a California contractor license contractor bond, you typically need to provide basic information such as your business name, owner's name, and address and undergo a soft credit check by providing your social security number.
Once your dealer bond application is approved, you can proceed with making the payment for the bond. Once payment is received, your surety broker will typically e-file the bond on your behalf with the CSLB and send you a confirmation. You can then verify that your bond has been appropriately filed by conducting a license check on CSLB.
Congratulations on passing your examination. Going through all these steps is a challenging feat. What's left is getting your application and starting work as a contractor.
You will receive a wall certificate showing the following information:
You will also receive a plastic pocket card showing the following:
According to the legal requirement, you must prominently display your wall certificate in your primary office or main place of business. We also recommend carrying your pocket card when working, especially when you anticipate engaging in business solicitation or interacting with potential customers.
The state of California requires renewal once every two years. In the event of any changes to your general business information, you must update these details on the renewal application.
Original Application (exam or waiver for one classification
Initial License Fee (Sole Owner)
Initial License Fee (Non-Sole Owner)
Fingerprinting Fees—Paid to Live Scan Operator
Dept. of Justice Processing Fee
Federal Bureau of Investigation Processing Fee
Other fees are available on the Contractor’s State Licensing Board
Currently, the CSLB has testing locations in the following cities:
You can find a comprehensive list of testing locations on the PSI website.
Based on your city of residence, a testing location will be assigned to you. After your application is accepted, you will have 18 months to successfully complete both examinations.
Upon issuance, a contractor license is valid for an initial period of two years. The license's expiration date will be two years from the last day of the month in which it was originally issued. If the license is renewed while on active status, it can be renewed for a two-year period. Alternatively, if the renewal is done while on inactive status, it can be renewed for a four-year period.
Your application will be returned to you if it is insufficient or incomplete. Don’t lose hope, though! The CSLB gives you 90 days from the day your application was returned to provide any missing information, make corrections, and resubmit your application. If you do not resubmit your application to CSLB within 90 days, though, it becomes void.
If your license has lapsed, reinstatement is not an option. To obtain a license again, you will need to submit a new application along with the required processing fee.
If you are not a California resident and don't intend to visit the state during the application process, or if you cannot access a Live Scan site, you will be fingerprinted using physical fingerprint cards. For individuals residing outside of California, these hard copy cards will be automatically generated and sent to you once your application has been received and processed.
Not showing up for an examination will result in a $100 rescheduling fee. If you have a specific date preference for the rescheduling, please contact Exams@cslb.ca.gov or call (916) 255-3498 and provide your requested date.
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