Massachusetts Home Improvement Contractors
Beyond following the common advice of seeking three estimates, checking contractor references and liability and workman’s compensation insurance coverages, there are other important details you should not overlook when on the quest for a reputable home improvement contractor for your next project. The Home Improvement Contractor Law, M.G.L. c. 142A, was enacted to protect consumers and regulate contractor practices. As with any professional doing work on your home, you should first check to see if the contractor you’re considering is properly licensed or registered in the Commonwealth. Among other things, the law requires the contractor’s HIC registration number to be published on any advertising, including any estimate or contract for services.
The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) webpage at www.Mass.gov has a quick way to search for the home improvement contractor (HIC) by business or last name, to determine if the contractor has been licensed and is allowed to offer home remodeling services valued over $500. If you are tackling a new build or larger project involving structural elements, a construction supervisor license (CSL) might be required, which can also be found in a database at Mass.gov. In looking up the respective license or individual, you will also be privy to other claims or prior complaints that have been made through the state agency against that contractor. There are some exceptions to HIC registration requirements for certain services, however the great majority of contractors will be subject to licensure. Many home improvement jobs will require both licenses. If you hire a contractor or subcontractor who is not registered, you will not be protected by the HIC law, however, you may have other legal remedies if something goes awry.
For any contract over $1,000, the HIC law requires a written contract fully delineating the contractor’s responsibilities, timeline with start and end date, scope of services and materials included in the total cost. However, a written contract is a good idea regardless of the value of the undertaking. You will want to be sure that any permit required will be the responsibility of the contractor to obtain, otherwise you may not be eligible for certain benefits under the law, and you as homeowner, will be personally responsible for all work on the project, including Code compliance or any injuries that may occur as a result. The HIC law also specifies that a home improvement contractor cannot request or collect more than 1/3 of the contract cost up front, excluding special order materials. Similarly, final payment on the project cannot be demanded until the contract is satisfactorily completed. Other contractual provisions required by the law include setting forth the full payment schedule, the homeowner’s 3-day cancellation rights, express warranty terms on workmanship or materials, if any.
If you are concerned that your contractor hasn’t completed the project up to state Code, you should seek the advice of the Town building inspector, or an engineer or architect as necessary. Should you hire a contractor and find yourself in a dispute that cannot be amicably resolved, both OCABR and the Division of Occupational Licensure have enforcement and complaint programs. The HIC law also established an arbitration program through OCABR for resolving disputes outside of litigation, as well as a Guaranty Fund program intended to compensate homeowners up to $10,000 for unpaid judgments against HIC-registered contractors. You may also have other legal claims against the contractor, including a claim pursuant to Massachusetts Consumer Protection statute, G.L. c. 93A for unfair and deceptive acts or practices, which may result in an award to you of triple damages and attorney’s fees, if successful.
If you find yourself in a contractor dispute regarding services not provided in a timely or workmanlike manner, or if you are a contractor who wishes to be sure your contract contains all terms required by the HIC law, please do not hesitate to call Corso Law, LLC at 774-901-2677.
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