“With New Jersey well into peak home improvement season, we are actively protecting consumers by responding to complaints and identifying contractors who violate our registration and advertising laws,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “For their part, consumers can protect themselves by learning as much as possible about any contractor – including whether the business is registered to conduct home improvement work in New Jersey – before signing a contract.”
Of the contractors cited during the second quarter of this year, 40 allegedly violated New Jersey law by acting as unregistered contractors. To become registered, a contractor must disclose the physical location of the business and provide proof of a minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance, among other requirements. The majority of the unregistered contractors were also the subject of consumer complaints; the Division has ordered them to pay consumer restitution ranging from $200 to $35,905.
Of the 49 registered contractors on the violation list, 23 were the subject of consumer complaints and are ordered to pay restitution between $2,250 and $25,900. The violation list includes another 26 registered contractors who are not the subject of consumer complaints, but were cited for failing to include their registration numbers and/or other required information on advertisements or other documents.
Certain contractors on the list have cooperated with the Division of Consumer Affairs by agreeing to Consent Orders for the payment of penalties and, in the case of several unregistered contractors, by applying for registration.
The Division has ordered 56 of the 89 contractors to pay a total of $369,236.42 in restitution to consumers for alleged shoddy and/or unfinished work; and has ordered all 89 contractors to pay a total of $261,320 in civil penalties, for a grand total of $630,556.42. During the first half of the year – including these second-quarter totals – the Division has issued violation notices to a total of 120 contractors, seeking a total of $1,028,333.02 in restitution and penalties.
“The Division of Consumer Affairs is here to help consumers by confirming whether a given contractor is registered, and whether he or she has been the subject of consumer complaints or past enforcement action,” said Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee. “Hiring a fraudulent or unregistered contractor could easily end up costing a consumer thousands of dollars, and a lot of wasted time and energy.”
Year after year, “Home Improvements” has been the largest complaint category that consumers have filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs. The Division received 1,253 formal consumer complaints about home improvement contractors in 2014, and has received 628 formal complaints to date in 2015.
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. 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. The general practice is to pay for one-third in advance, one-third halfway through, and one-third upon completion.
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 John Kulina, Jessica Lugo, Maureen Browne, Brittany Kieran, Michelle Davis, and Ray Yee, led by Team Leader Joseph Iasso and Supervising Investigator Jen Micco 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.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.