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Recovering from the California Wildfires: What Contractors Need to Know

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It’s been a tough few months for a lot of Americans, including millions along the Gulf Coast, and more recently, countless more out west in California.

In response to natural disasters that struck the Gulf Coast, we’ve published posts on recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

Those preparing to recover from the California wildfires face a similar challenge to folks in Texas and Florida – whether it’s fire damage or damage from wind and water, in many cases, property owners have been left with nothing.

The Playbook for Disaster Recovery Construction Projects

We wrote an article – the Playbook for Disaster Recovery – for situations like this. No matter the disaster and no matter the location, there are a lot of similarities for owners and construction businesses in times of recovery. However, there will always be some state-specific considerations to keep an eye on.

Below are some of the California specifics to keep in mind during wildfire recovery.

Recovering from the California Wildfires

how INSURANCE may impact getting paid

Unlike the water-damaged homes of Houston, most people affected by these wildfires should be covered by insurance.

This will soften the blow somewhat, but the involvement of insurance can create some issues with construction payment. What’s more, insurance proceeds are not likely to cover the full cost of recovery, and contractor fraud following disasters is a fairly common occurrence.

The disaster playbook article speaks more to the intersection of disaster recovery work and insurance. But here are a few tips for California property owners (and the construction companies they hire during the recovery) that will help the rebuilding work go a little smoother:

  • Take pictures of the damage and anything that is recognizable in the debris.
  • If you did not document some possessions before the fires, track down photos on your phone or social media accounts that could help support your insurance claims for the undocumented items.
  • Contact your insurance provider immediately – even if you don’t have all of your documentation together, put the provider on notice of your impending claim as soon as possible.

LICENSURE requirements for contractors working in California

In California, it’s imperative that someone providing construction work is licensed, if and when licensure is required. We’ve explored this idea numerous times in the past on the Construction Payment Blog, and here are a few posts that can help:

Can Unlicensed Contractors Lien in California?

Construction Managers Probably Can File Mechanic Liens in California – Even Without A License

Amendment to California Contractor Requirements

Is License Required

Take note, however, that licensing requirements are regularly relaxed to aid rebuilding efforts following major natural disasters. Considering the state of the housing crisis and labor shortage, I would be shocked if licensure requirements weren’t relaxed to some degree.

Other Issues That Might Impact the Recovery Work

Construction Labor Shortage

Nationwide, there has been an acute shortage of skilled labor in the construction industry. We’ve written a few posts on the subject, actually:

It appears that the shortage in California could be a very serious hurdle to rebuilding, as outlined by the SF Gate. While workers from other areas often flock to disaster-stricken areas to provide their services, many will be diverted, or are already working on, some of the other recent disasters.


The issues faced during recovery will be exacerbated by the California Housing Crisis. Affordable housing was hard to come by before the wildfires. With so many displaced, the issue will only get worse.

On one hand, California recently passed a number of affordable housing measures aimed at alleviating the housing shortage. On the other hand, these measures typically help in the long run – the new provisions won’t provide immediate relief to those displaced.

What’s more, another recently-passed construction law could even raise the price of doing business.

The Sacramento Bee wrote about how the housing crisis will be intensified by the wildfires, and so did the New York Times.


Sonoma will be home to what is likely the largest wildfire cleanup in California history. Under the program, the EPA will remove hazardous waste, then the Army Corps of Engineers will help with cleanup. The Corps also stated that local subcontractors will be used wherever possible.

Property owners will not be charged for the cleanup, but to opt-in to the program, insurance proceeds for the removal of debris will have to be assigned by homeowners. No funds for the actual rebuilding of properties will be redirected, but any excess will also go towards paying for the program. and the Press Democrat have more details on the program.

Unfortunately, a lot of this post was pretty bleak. So let’s try to leave it on an uplifting note…

Good News and Other Resources

Helping With Tiny Houses

It’s always inspiring to see how people come together in these types of situations- especially those in the construction industry. One of the more interesting stories to come out is this one about a contractor building tiny homes to help those affected (check out the full story here). The homes will be donated to people who have lost everything, and all of the labor is being donated by contractors and subs after a GoFundMe page was created to help fund their endeavor.

Volunteers Going Above And Beyond

There are countless stories of people going above and beyond in this time of need. One of these stories caught the eye of The Tribune – A trio of two college students (a brother and sister) and a member of the Army Reserve (her boyfriend) cancelled their weekend plans and drove towards the fires with a truckload of supplies and handwritten cards from a group of second grade students.

Stories of animal rescue have also been popping up. This story from TIME discusses the efforts of rescuers working day and night to service the animals that have been affected by the fires. Another story from USA Today details how a woman helped deliver 21 baby goats as the fire neared. The story also states:

Contractors, skilled construction workers and even former wildland firefighters came out of the woodwork to run bulldozers and drive multi-thousand gallon water tenders on twisty and damaged back roads.”

More California Resources

The horrible wildfires notwithstanding, zlien does have an extensive collection of resources available to help construction industry participants – and those working in California in particular – with construction payment and other issues.

Here are a few links to some of our California resources:

Be sure to download your free copy of the Disaster Recovery Cheat Sheet

Disaster Recovery Cheat Sheet

Recovering from the California Wildfires: What Contractors Need to Know
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Recovering from the California Wildfires: What Contractors Need to Know
Important information and resources for the property owners affected by the California wildfires and the contractors that will help them rebuild and recover
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Last Updated on Mar 14, 2018
Published on Oct 27, 2017


Matt is a legal associate at zlien, and a licensed attorney in Louisiana. He is a graduate of Tulane University Law School (J.D.) and Louisiana State University (B.S.). Before joining zlien, Matt interned for the Western District of Louisiana, University of New Orleans, and Siegel Sports and Entertainment. Shaquille O'Neal once complimented his mustache on national television.

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