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Beware of Fraudulent Home Repair Contractors

    NEWARK - Has spring got you thinking about sprucing up around the house? Perhaps your deck needs repairing? Or maybe you’d like to replace the old linoleum floors with hardwood? Whatever project you take on, make sure you do your homework so you don’t become the unwitting victim of home repair fraud.

    The home improvement industry rakes in billions of dollars each year from consumers who want to beautify or modernize their homes. While many people are happy with the results, there are many others whose experiences are less than pleasant.

    Last year, Consumer Affairs logged more than 2,500 complaints from consumers who felt cheated by a home repair contractor. That figure is up from approximately 2,100 consumer complaints involving home improvement projects in 2002.

    Spring is typically the start of the home remodeling season and while some do-it-yourselfers will brave the projects on their own, many more will turn to home improvement contractors for assistance with their projects.

    The Governor recently enacted New Jersey’s “Contractor’s Registration Act,” which will offer New Jersey consumers significant protections by, among other things, requiring home improvement contractors to register annually with Consumer Affairs and to carry a minimum of $500,000 in general liability insurance. The law will take effect in November.

    In the meantime, what should consumers do to protect themselves from fraudulent home repair contractors? Here are some important tips you should follow before hiring a contractor:

    • Shop around by obtaining at least three written estimates.

    • Call Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Service Center at 973-504-6200 to find out if the contractor you’re thinking about hiring has been the subject of consumer complaints and/or legal action by the State.

    • Don’t be fooled by individuals who approach you out of the blue claiming they can take care of your home repair needs or do any other kind of work for you around the house. These individuals will often prey on the elderly by claiming they were “just in the neighborhood” and noticed the person’s house could stand some repair work or sprucing up. For example, they’ll say they can fix your driveway, the stairs on the front porch or repair your roof. Many times these individuals are con artists who will either over charge you for shoddy work or try to gain access into your home so they can steal from you. If approached by a stranger whose business you haven’t sought out, politely decline the offer. Do not pay the person any money or let him or her into your home. If the person is persistent and won’t take “no” for an answer, call the police.

    • Ask your contractor about his or her professional affiliations and confirm the information with the organizations.

    • Know the law. New Jersey law requires written contracts on home improvement projects costing more than $200. The contract must disclose the legal name and business address of the contractor, a start date and completion date, and a description of the work to be done and the principal products and materials to be used or installed as part of the contract. Contractors must also ensure that all applicable state or local building and construction permits are obtained.

    • Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing.

    • Avoid paying for the entire job up front. One-third in advance, one-third halfway through the job and one-third upon completion is the customary arrangement.

    • Investigate financing option. Shop for credit and be sure you understand the annual percentage rate you will have to pay.

    • Look for the red flags. Be wary if the contractor:

      • tells you that he or she needs a large payment before the home repair work can begin;
      • insists you pay cash;
      • tells you a written contract is not necessary – a verbal agreement is enough; or
      • does not have a business address, business card or, in a case where he or she is offering plumbing or electrical contracting services, cannot produce a state license number.
    • If the contractor is offering to do electrical contracting services, call the State Board of Electrical Contractors at 973-504-6410 to ensure that he or she is licensed with that board to do such work.

    • If the contractor is offering plumbing services, call the State Board of Master Plumbers at 973-504-6420 to ensure that he or she is properly licensed to do such work.

    To file a complaint against any contractor, call the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Consumer Service Center at 973-504-6200. A complaint form will be mailed to you for you to fill out and mail back to Consumer Affairs. You may also log onto Consumer Affairs’ Web site to file your complaint online: www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/ocp/ocpform.htm.


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