What you need to know when hiring
a Home Improvement Contractor
By: Dante B. Parenti, Esquire
This year, many people across the state will decide that it is finally time to make those long needed repairs to their house. It could be an addition to the home, or a replacement of an old deck or even a new roof. No matter what type of project it is, there are things that you can do to ensure that you do not become the victim of home repair fraud. While many people are satisfied with the work performed by the contractor they hire, many others are not. The New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs receives thousands of complaints each year from consumers who believe they were cheated by a home repair contractor. In response to those complaints, our Legislature passed the “Contractor Registration Act” that requires that all home improvement contractors register with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Any contractor who does not register as required by the Act, will be denied municipal construction permits and will not be permitted to perform home improvement work in New Jersey.
In addition to the Contractor Registration Act, homeowners are also afforded protection by the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. That Act is designed to protect the consumer from fraud and misrepresentation in consumer transactions. These include those contracts that a homeowner may enter into with a contractor for home improvement work. Any contract for a home improvement contract that cost $50.000 or more must be in writing and signed by the parties. The contractor is required by law to include the legal name of the company as well as its business address as well as a start date and completion date for the work. The contractor must also provide a complete description of the work to be performed as well as the total price. The contract must also include the contractor’s registration number. In addition to the above, the contractor is also required to provide a complete description of the work to be done as well as the principal materials to be used in performing the work. This includes the size, make, and model of the products or fixtures to be installed. A homeowner should make sure that the contract states the name, brands and/or quality of the materials to be used. Further, any and all guarantees or warranties should be written in the contract as well. If a contractor fails to include this information in the contract, it could be considered a technical violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. If the homeowner suffers damage to his property or the loss of money as a result of the contractor’s violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the contractor could be held responsible for three times the amount of damages as punishment. These damages are typically imposed where a contractor performs an unconscionable business practice, such as deception, fraud, misrepresentation or knowing concealment of a material fact.
In these uncertain economic times, many homeowners are falling victim to unscrupulous contractors. Therefore, a homeowner should be wary when hiring a home improvement contractor by obtaining estimates from at least three different contractors and avoiding those contractors who insist on a large payment before the work can begin. The homeowner should also avoid those contractors who ask for payment in cash or insist a written contract is not necessary. The Contractor Registration Act and the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act are both designed to protect the consumer. However, the best way to protect yourself is to make sure your contract for home improvement work is reviewed by a knowledgeable attorney prior to it being signed. However, if you find yourself in a situation in which you feel as if you have been taken advantage of by a home improvement contractor, you should contact an attorney right away to learn what legal rights you have.