What’s in a contract? When providing home improvements in the State of New Jersey, the answer to that question can mean the difference between a satisfied customer and an expensive legal bill.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has adopted an expansive list of regulations governing home improvement practices. Many of these regulations are codified in the Contractor’s Registration Act. They focus on the specific provisions contained in the home improvement contract. The failure to comply with even one of these regulations is considered an unlawful practice under the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). A contractor engaged in an unlawful practice may be forced to pay the homeowner’s attorney’s fees in the event litigation ensues for whatever reason, regardless of the contractor’s intent. Attorney’s fees may be assessed even though the homeowner has not suffered an ascertainable loss as a result of unlawful affirmative acts or knowing omissions.
Courts liberally construe the CFA to accomplish its goal of safeguarding the public. Because of this clear purpose, contractors must comply with the Act. If litigation results because of any dispute related to the work to be performed, a violation of these regulations provides homeowners with a powerful weapon to yield against contractors.
These regulations include, but are not limited to, the requirement that all contracts for home improvements in excess of $500.00 be placed in writing and signed by all parties; the requirement that the contractor include its registration number provided by the Division of Consumer Affairs on all advertisements and business documents; the requirement to maintain the minimum required commercial general liability insurance; and the inclusion of the “magic right to cancel” language on every contract.
If you have never had an attorney assist in the preparation of your standard home improvement contract, or if an attorney has not reviewed your contract in some time, I strongly encourage you to take the time to do so. A few moments and some quick changes can make all the difference in the world.
—Jeremiah J. Atkins, Esquire