The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that, during the first quarter of 2015, it has issued Notices of Violation to 31 contractors, seeking $397,776.60 in consumer restitution and civil penalties.
“The arrival of Spring signals the traditional start of New Jersey’s home improvement season and we are urging consumers to thoroughly review potential contractors before hiring someone to do work on their homes,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “Everyone needs to check whether a home improvement contractor is registered with the state before signing a contract or paying a deposit.”
Consumer Affairs investigators cited 22 of the 31 contractors for not being registered with the Division as legally required. To become registered, a contractor must disclose the physical location of the business and provide proof of having a minimum of $500,000 in liability insurance, among other requirements.
The 31 contractors issued Notices of Violation have been directed to pay a total of $266,526.60 in restitution to consumers, in amounts ranging from $400 to $81,050, for allegedly failing to complete work that consumers had paid for in advance, failing to refund deposits, or other issues. The civil penalties assessed total $131,250.
“We’re alerting consumers to be vigilant, and to perform their due diligence, before hiring a home improvement contractor. The Division of Consumer Affairs is ready to assist homeowners by providing information on past actions it has taken against any contractor, along with information about complaints consumers have filed with us,” Acting Consumer Affairs Director Steve Lee said. “We’re here to empower homeowners so they can make informed decisions when hiring a home improvement contractor.”
Year after year, “Home Improvements” has been the largest complaint category that consumers have filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs. Throughout 2014, Consumer Affairs’ investigators focused on protecting homeowners, with over 130 Notices of Violation issued for not meeting requirements of the Home Improvement Contractors’ Registration Act and Consumer Fraud Act.
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.
Team Leader Joseph Iasso and Investigators Loretta Creggett, Michelle Davis, Michael Meola, and Ray Yee, led by 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 a complaint online with the State Division of Consumer Affairs or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.