(Published in the Fall/Winter of 2009 Newsletter)
There is a new law that affects home improvement contractors and consumers: the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. It became effective on July 1, 2009. The law requires all "contractors" to register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's (AG's) Office, who oversees their registration, and maintains an online list for consumers to review. The list, the actual law, and other helpful information is found at: http://www.attorneygeneral.gov (note the "Consumers" tab).
Under the Act, a "contractor" includes those who perform home improvements valuing $5,000 or more per year.
As part of the registration process, a contractor must pay a small fee, currently $50, and provide a statement indicating whether he has ever been convicted of a crime involving fraud or theft. The applicant must indicate whether he has filed for bankruptcy or had a civil judgment entered against him in the last ten years. Proof of liability insurance and a social security number is also required. However, the law does not explicitly state whether it is the AG's duty to affirmatively check the information provided in registration applications for accuracy. Once registered, contractors must display their registration number in all advertisements (including business cards), contracts and estimates.
To be valid and enforceable, a home improvement contract must contain at least a dozen specific items (i.e., price, start and completion dates, contact information, description of work to be done, etc.). Finally, the law establishes that certain acts of fraud and misrepresentation in the home improvement context are considered crimes. Violations of the Act may result in a fine or jail time. A homeowner who has been harmed may also have the right to file a lawsuit under certain circumstances.
NOTE: The contents of this Newsletter are not intended to be, nor should they be taken as, specific legal advice as each situation is different. Please contact a lawyer with any questions you may have.