“Through our year-long enforcement efforts we have been able to return significant amounts of restitution to consumers allegedly cheated by contractors who took money for jobs that were left undone, or completed unsatisfactorily,” said Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman. “With every dollar we secure for mistreated consumers we reinforce our commitment to protect the integrity of the home improvement marketplace by ensuring that contractors comply with the law.”
The 40 contractors cited today have been directed to pay a total of $321,477 in restitution to consumers in amounts ranging from $360 to $50,000, for allegedly performing shoddy work, failing to complete work that consumers had paid for in advance, failing to refund deposits, or other issues.
The Division is also directing the 40 contractors to pay a total of $160,000 in civil penalties ranging from $1,250 to $7,000. The Division cited each of the contractors for alleged violations of New Jersey’s Contractor’s Registration Act, such as failure to provide consumers with detailed, written contracts for home improvement projects costing more than $500. In addition, 22 of the companies were also cited for operating without being registered with the Division as home improvement contractors, as is required under state law.
“New Jersey consumers who spend hard earned money on home improvement projects do not deserve to be left with shoddy work and dangerous conditions that must be repaired at additional cost,” said Steve Lee, acting director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. “The Division will continue to work diligently on their behalf to ensure disreputable contractors don’t get away with profiting from the victimization of honest people.
Certain contractors on the list have cooperated with the Division of Consumer Affairs by agreeing to Consent Orders for the payment of penalties and to resolve the consumer complaint(s) by paying restitution or by resolving the complaint through the Division’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Unit (ADR) for Binding Arbitration, and, in the case of several unregistered contractors, by applying for registration.
Each year, “Home Improvements” has topped the list of complaints that consumers have filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs. In 2015, the Division received 1,386 formal consumer complaints about home improvement contractors, up from the 1,253 received in 2014.
For home improvement projects costing more than $500, the contractor must provide the consumer with a written contract with specific, detailed information including the project`s agreed-upon price; the starting and ending dates; the scope of work; the contractor`s business name, address, and registration number; and other required information.
Each of the contractors receiving a Notice of Violation has the opportunity to contest the assertion that he or she has violated the law, or the opportunity to correct the violation by desisting from any practices in violation of the law, paying a civil penalty and/or consumer restitution where required, and submitting an application for registration, if not registered. Each contractor also may contest the Division`s assessment of consumer restitution.
Violators of the Contractors` Registration Act are subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first violation, and up to $20,000 for subsequent violations.
Tips for Consumers, When Hiring a Contractor:
Learn about any contractor before deciding to hire them. It is ideal to work with a contractor who is recommended by people you know. It also is advisable to ask the contractor for references and speak with those references about the contractor`s work.
Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs to learn if the contractor is duly registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey, and learn whether the contractor has been the subject of consumer complaints and/or legal action by the Division, or to learn more about contractors who have been cited by the Division. You can call the Division at 800-242-5846 or use the Division`s website, NJConsumerAffairs.gov.
Before hiring the contractor, demand a copy of the contractor`s liability insurance policy and contact the insurer to learn whether the policy is valid.
Obtain a written contract. Contracts for home improvement projects costing $500 or more must be in writing. They must include the legal name, business address, and registration number of the contractor as well as a start date, completion date, description of the work to be done, and the total price.
Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing, and that the contract states the name brands or quality/grades of the materials to be used. Ensure that all applicable construction permits are obtained by the contractor, from the appropriate municipality.
Remember that it is customary not to pay for the entire project in advance.
Information for Home Improvement Contractors:
To advertise and perform home improvement work legally in New Jersey, contractors must register with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. View registration materials and information.
Investigators Joe Iasso, Jessica Lugo, Maureen Browne, and Brittany Kieran, of the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection, conducted these investigations.
Deputy Attorneys General from the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law represented the State in these actions.