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Press Releases

06/10/2011

State Announces Convictions in 33 Home Improvement Cases

 

HARTFORD, June 10 -- As home improvement season heats up, the Department of Consumer Protection and the Office of the Attorney General are busy enforcing laws designed to protect consumers from unregistered or unscrupulous contractors. Today, the agencies are releasing results of recent criminal prosecutions against contractors charged with home improvement violations.

Between January 4th and June 6th of 2011, contractors were convicted in 33 cases and placed in pretrial diversion programs in five others, resulting in nearly $233,000 in restitution to consumers. Two contractors are now serving jail time. A summary of the judgments is here.

“We are providing this information to remind consumers and contractors alike of our commitment to ensure that Connecticut’s home improvement marketplace is fair and accountable,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said. “Our laws are clear and provide valuable protections for both homeowners and contractors.”

Connecticut consumers need to do their homework and make sure the contractor they hire is registered,” Attorney General George Jepsen said. “Many of the convictions won by my office involved complaints about work that was done by unregistered individuals and companies. “While registration doesn’t guarantee a contractor’s competency, it does give consumers rights and protections that are not available if the contractor is not registered.”

Under the law, a home improvement contractor is anyone who performs improvements on residential property when the individual job exceeds $200 and when the cash price of all work performed by the contractor in one year is more than $1,000.  All home improvement contractors -- including roofers, addition and remodeling contractors, driveway pavers, painters and anyone who installs fences, siding, insulation, windows and masonry, for example -- must be registered with the Department of Consumer Protection and adhere to strict consumer protection requirements.

The following are tips for selecting and working with a home improvement contractor:

  • While competition for contractors may tempt you to make hasty decisions or cut corners, take all the time you can to thoroughly research the job, interview several contractors, and choose one who is fully qualified and capable of getting the work done right, on time and within budget.  Be especially wary of any contractor who pressures you to make an immediate decision or tells you that they can offer a lower price because they have leftover materials from a previous job.
  • For names of dependable contractors, talk to friends who’ve had remodeling done; check out work being done in your neighborhood, and contact local building officials for suggestions. Your local building official can also advise you on building permit and zoning requirements. Never agree to unsolicited, on-the-spot offers. At this time of year, unregistered and unscrupulous contractors often go door to door offering home improvements at a low price, but you may lose your money and be left with an unfinished job.
  • Before signing a contract and before making any payments, check to make sure that a contractor is registered with the Department of Consumer Protection. Don’t just take the contractor’s word for it; confirm the contractor’s registration by visiting the Department of Consumer Protection’s website at www.ct.gov/dcp and go to “Verify a License.” By looking at the contractor’s credential record, you can tell whether the Department has any closed complaints against the person. If you do not have internet access, you may call the Department at (860) 713-6110. While registration does not signify competency of any contractor, dealing with registered contractors gives you important rights that you will not have if you are taken advantage of by an unregistered contractor.
  • It is a good practice to get more than one bid and to make sure they all include the same details, such as quality of materials, size of the project, and time frames. The lowest bid is not necessarily a bargain, so resist the temptation to choose a contractor based solely on price.
  • Check references thoroughly. You should also verify with the contractor that he has the appropriate level of workers compensation and liability insurance.
  • Look at contractors’ recent and past jobs. You can even check contractors’ litigation history to see if they’ve been sued by former clients. Go online to http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov, select “party name search” from the left menu and type in the contractor’s last and first name or company name in the boxes provided.
  • Ask contractors about their workload. Can they truly start and finish on time? You should be able to speak openly with the contractor and feel that he or she is listening to you. 
  • If a contractor offers to finance your home improvement project or put you in touch with a finance company, be careful! Have an attorney or some other informed person review the finance agreement before you sign, to verify that it complies with state and federal Truth-in-Lending laws. 
  • By law, all home improvement contracts must be in writing, must contain all details of the job and bear the contractor's registration number, so read carefully before you sign. The contract must include the start date, end date, work to be done, materials to be used, and price.  In addition, the contract must give you 3 days to cancel.  Never allow the contractor to persuade you into forfeiting this right. This is your “cooling off” period, a time to assess the contract, especially if you feel you signed it under pressure.
  • Be sure the contract includes a payment schedule that roughly parallels the progress of the work, perhaps breaking the bill into quarters.  Don't pay a lot of money up front and never pay cash.
  • Before the work starts, check with local building officials to be sure the contractor has taken out all necessary permits.
  • Make sure persons hired to do electrical and plumbing work hold the appropriate Connecticut occupational license – this requirement is distinct from the Home Improvement registration. Like home improvement registrations, occupational licenses can be verified by the Department of Consumer Protection through its website or by telephone. Occupational trades work may be included in a home improvement contract, but may only be completed by a properly licensed tradesperson.

Under Connecticut law, consumers who suffer damage as a result of dealings with a registered home improvement contractor may qualify for some restitution from the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund, which can return up to $15,000 per contract.  You do not have this protection if you deal with an unregistered contractor. The Department of Consumer Protection administers the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund. The names of contractors and summaries of the judgments announced today are available online at www.ct.gov/dcp and www.ct.gov/ag.  Consumers who have home improvement questions or concerns may contact the Department of Consumer Protection at 860-713-6110.

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Media Contact: Claudette Carveth
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