Considering Becoming an Owner-Builder?

Important information you need to know Before pulling your permit!

The term “Owner-Builder” can mean 3 different things:
  • Owner as Worker
  • Owner as Contractor
  • Owner as Employer
Understand each has benefits or risk, and it is possible to combine them!

Hiring a Contractor


Hiring a California Licensed Contractor means you do not personally perform any of the construction work, the permit is not taken out in your name, you are not personally responsible for the construction, and you are not an Owner-Builder. Instead, you become a “Customer” and California law provides you the benefit of protection from poor workmanship, failure to finish the job and financial risk due to worker injury.
  • Benefit / Risk: Highest benefits and the least amount of risk

Owner as Worker


Owner-as-Worker is a type of Owner-Builder where you personally perform the construction work, the permit is taken out in your name and you are personally responsible for the construction management, knowledge, workmanship, and completion of the job. You benefit by not paying others to perform this work for you and your risk depends on your own ability to complete the job successfully.
  • Benefit / Risk: Possible benefit with low financial risk

Owner as Contractor


Owner-as-Contractor is a type of Owner-Builder where you personally act as your own General Contractor, the permit is taken out in your name and you hire California licensed sub-contractors to perform portions of the construction work. Warning: The benefit of protection provided by law when you hire only California licensed sub-contractors can turn to serious financial risk if you hire unlicensed contractors to perform any of the work.
  • Benefit / Risk: Possible benefit and significant financial risk

Owner as Employer


Owner-as-Employer is a type of Owner-Builder where you pay any unlicensed individual to perform any construction work valued at more than $500.00, the permit is taken out in your name and you are personally responsible for their employment requirements, supervision, performance, safety and welfare while on your property. Warning: Cost savings benefit can turn to serious financial risk if you fail to deduct payroll taxes or provide workers compensation insurance for each worker.
  • Benefit / Risk: Possible benefit with significant financial risk

Health & Safety Code Section 19827


The California Legislature declares an “urgent and statewide public interest in assuring” that contractors comply with Contractors’ License Law, Business and Professions Code and Workers’ Compensation Insurance requirements to ensure property owners are informed about, and protected from the following when improving their property as Owner-Builders:
  • Employers tax liabilities
  • Fraudulent representations
  • Liability for material and labor costs unpaid by contractors
  • Liability for worker’s injuries
  • Licensing requirements
Over 20,000 consumer complaints are filed each year. Many complaints relate to owner/builder projects and include workmanship and workers’ compensation issues. Homeowners suffer financial harm due to defective workmanship and injured employees.

Owner-Builder Permit Examples


Following are alarming examples of what has occurred with Owner-Builder permits:

Example 1


A homeowner received insurance money to rebuild a burned-down home.
  • Owner/Builder permit pulled to rebuild structure
  • Unlicensed contractor built substandard structure - must be torn down and replaced
  • Estimated financial injury is $225,000
  • Additional financial injury - IRS threatened to tax insurance payout if house not completed by the end of the year

Example 2


Brother-in-law had an active license but filed an exemption from Workers Comp.
  • Owner-Builder hires brother-in-law to install a new roof
  • Employee falls and sustains multiple spinal and extremity fractures as well as a head injury and remains in a coma to this day
  • The Owner-Builder, who has sold the home, is now a defendant in a lawsuit for reimbursement for benefits paid to the injured worker

Example 3


An employee of a contractor without Workers Comp is hired by Owner-Builder to install a septic system and suffers an injury that results in permanent disability.
  • The Owner-Builder did not have a homeowner’s insurance policy on the house against which to submit a claim
  • The Owner-Builder is now a defendant in a lawsuit for reimbursement for benefits paid to the injured worker

Did you Know


  • Unlicensed persons frequently have the property owner obtain an “Owner-Builder” building permit which erroneously implies that the property owner is providing his or her own labor and material personally?
  • Your homeowner’s insurance may not provide coverage for injuries sustained on your property by an unlicensed contractor and his/her employees?
  • If you are considered an “employer” under state and federal law, you must register with the state and federal government, withhold payroll taxes, provide workers compensation and disability insurance and contribute to unemployment compensation for each “employee”?
  • That if you fail to abide by these laws you may be subjected to serious financial risk?
Owners beware and consider the risk before accepting full responsibility for your construction permit!