NEWARK – The State Division of Consumer Affairs is citing 10 unregistered home improvement contractors, and assessing civil penalties of $2,500 each, resulting from an “Undercover House” operation conducted in partnership with the Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs, officials announced today.
The undercover initiative was held before Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey. But Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa noted it stands as a warning to those whose homes were damaged by the historic storm, and who are seeking to hire contractors as they recover from the damage, that they should check the credentials of any contractor they consider hiring.
“In the wake of Sandy, we’re working hard to help and protect New Jersey residents on all levels,” said Gov. Chris Christie. “We want to make sure that those who sustained damage from the storm don’t suffer further at the hands of unscrupulous contractors.”
Chiesa said, “New Jerseyans whose homes were damaged by Sandy should be on alert. Now is the time when fly-by-night, unregistered contractors will descend on storm-damaged areas, seeking to make a quick profit at the expense of homeowners. New Jersey has 42,000 duly registered home improvement contractors; there is no shortage of good, professional help. If you don’t do your homework and hire a registered contractor with a good track record, you may spend thousands of dollars on a project, only to find yourself stuck with substandard, shoddy, and unsafe work.”
The Attorney General noted that consumers seeking to hire a contractor should contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-242-5846 to learn whether the contractor has a current, valid state registration; and to learn whether the contractor has been the subject of consumer complaints. Consumers can also download the division’s free New Jersey “Professional License Lookup” smartphone app, to check the registration or licensing status of home improvement contractors and licensed professionals.
The undercover operation in Mercer County took place in July, during the height of the home improvement season. In its initial phase, investigators from the State Division of Consumer Affairs and Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs posed as consumers seeking to hire contractors for the renovation of a home in Titusville. The investigators booked appointments with unregistered contractors, some of whom who had commercial listings on Craigslist and other websites, in “home improvement guide” publications that were placed at convenience and grocery stores, and in local yellow pages.
During the operation’s second phase, the unregistered contractors came out to the Titusville home. The unregistered contractors spoke with the undercover investigators, who posed as the home’s owners. The investigators noted that, though the home had been empty for a few years and sustained minor damage, it could become beautiful again with the right work. The contractors examined the home and made estimates ranging from $2,500 to $50,000 for repairs such as painting, flooring, roofing, sheet rock work, and masonry work.
“One of the contractors showed up without a tape measure, ruler, meter, or any measuring device, and without even a notebook – and then made an estimate of $50,000, apparently based on what the investigators said they could afford,” Eric T. Kanefsky, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said. “Consumers should never hire a contractor without learning everything they can about the company’s reputation and abilities, and making sure they are duly registered with the state.”
The following contractors received notices of violation, each including a $2,500 civil penalty, as a result of the operation. It should be noted that two of the companies have since applied for registration and are now actively registered; and applications submitted by two more are currently pending.
- AA Construction, of Piscataway.
- Amidas Painting and Construction, LLC, of Chesterfield. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and is now actively registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey).
- First Choice Flooring, Inc., d/b/a/ Frank White Floors, of Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and its application is pending).
- Get it Done Painting, of Trenton.
- Home Code, LLC, of Highland Park. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and is now actively registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey).
- MLA Home Improvements, aka Mr. Yard & Home, of Somerville.
- Mudry Construction, LLC, of Mercerville. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and its application is pending).
- NE Home Improvements, of Philadelphia.
- Sonny Signo & Sons Home Repair & Remodeling, of Elizabeth.
- Tara Construction, of Lawrenceville.
All 10 contractors were cited for advertising and/or offering to perform home improvement work despite lacking State registration, in violation of New Jersey’s Contractors’ Registration Act and regulations. Each contractor has the opportunity to request a hearing before the Director of?the Division of Consumer Affairs, if they dispute the allegations. Violators of the Contractors Registration Act are subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first violation, and up to $20,000 for second and subsequent violations.
Since 2006, New Jersey law requires anyone advertising or performing home improvement work to register with the Division of Consumer Affairs. New Jersey’s Contractors’ Registration Act and regulations protect consumers by helping ensure the accountability of those performing residential improvements. The Act and regulations require contractors to demonstrate they have a legitimate business address that is a street address, and at least $500,000 in liability insurance, before they can become registered. The Act also requires that all home improvement contracts in excess of $500 contain clear language, including the project’s agreed-upon price, starting and ending dates, and scope of work.