Protecting Connecticut Homeowners from Home Improvement Pitfalls
Have you, or someone you know, been dissatisfied with a home improvement contractor? Homeowners commonly complain about cost overruns, poor workmanship, unnecessary services and missed deadlines. In these tough economic times disreputable contractors, many of whom are not registered with the State of Connecticut, and aggressively target vulnerable consumers.
As a consumer, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself before hiring a contractor, as well as pursuing the contractor afterwards, especially if they do not register and/or comply with the law.
Who is a Home Improvement Contractor?
Connecticut’s Home Improvement Act, Conn. Gen. St. § 20-418, et. seq., regulates home improvement businesses and persons who offer, undertake, or perform any home improvement. “Home Improvement" includes repair, replacement, remodeling, modernization and improvement of the land and buildings of private residences (and certain residential rental property). It also includes the construction, replacement, installation or improvement of driveways, swimming pools, porches, garages, roofs, siding, insulation, sunrooms, flooring, patios, landscaping, fences, doors and windows and waterproofing, plus underground heating oil storage tank removal or replacement. New home construction, the sale of goods where seller does not install the goods, and the sale of appliances that are easily removable from the residence, are excluded from the definition of home improvement.
Before you Hire, Verify the Contractor.
Contractors must register with the Department of Consumer Protection (“DCP") prior to offering services to consumers. Therefore, ask the contractor for their license number and verify it’s effective by visiting the State of Connecticut’s DCP e-license website at http://www.ct.gov/dcp/site/. It is also good practice to check references and search for any consumer complaints.
Understand Your Contract Before You Sign.
To protect consumers Connecticut law requires all home improvement contracts to be in writing and contain specific details. For example, the contract must be dated and include the entire agreement between the owner and the contractor, so make sure the price and a detailed description of the scope of services is clearly described. You should also make sure the contract describes the date work will begin and the date for completion. Make sure all your questions are satisfactorily answered; the contract states clearly what you expect to receive and contains no blanks to “fill in later". You should consult an attorney if the contract is suspicious or you do not understand fully what it says.
While any project can have unforeseen problems, if the project scope and cost change, you should make sure the contractor provides you a revised agreement. The law also requires all contract language to notify the homeowner of the right to cancel the contract within three business days after signing.
Harsh Penalties for Contractors.
Home improvement contractors that do not register or comply with the law face the harsh penalty of likely not being able to recover payment from the homeowner, unless bad faith is shown. In addition, violation of the Home Improvement Act is considered an unfair trade practice. Therefore, a homeowner has the potential of the court awarding punitive damages and attorney fees against the contractor for such violations. If the contractor failed to deliver on their promises, seeks payment greater than what you feel is owed, threatens to sue you or files a lien against your home, you should consult an attorney to make sure your rights are protected.
Last Resort - Guaranty Fund.
Homeowner’s who cannot collect a judgment against a contractor that is registered with the DCP at the time of, or 2 years prior to, the contract signing, may be eligible for up to $15,000 from the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund. Certain fund restrictions apply, including a 2 year deadline from judgment date, so consult the fund requirements or consult an attorney to see if you are eligible.