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This past November, I staffed the Office of Consumer Affairs’ booth at the Architecture Boston Expo (ABX), where we distributed brochures on the basic rules for home improvement contractors.  The trade show was well attended by contractors and I answered many of their questions.  As I helped each contractor, I handed them my business card and invited them to send me an e-mail if they had more questions.  Sometimes this exchange was awkward because some contractors reflexively reached for their business cards, but then hesitated and decided not to give one to me.  This can only mean one thing: after a quick refresher on the rules, they realized their business card did not contain their HIC registration numbers.

Under the law, every advertisement for residential contracting must contain the contractor’s HIC registration number.  An advertisement is defined as “any commercial message in any newspaper, magazine, leaflet, flyer, catalog, display space in the telephone book, on radio, television, public address system, or made in person, by letter or other printed material, or any interior or exterior sign or display, including on a vehicle.”  201 CMR 18.01(2) Advertisement.

This list is extensive and includes “other printed material,” like business cards, and “exterior signs,” like store fronts and lawn signs.  Many contractors interpret this rule to mean that they must discard all noncompliant preprinted materials to achieve compliance, but that is not necessarily the case.  A contractor can satisfy his obligation under the law by conspicuously writing his HIC registration number on those materials.  In the case of business cards and lawn signs, this can usually be accomplished with a permanent marker.  Of course, when the stock of preprinted materials is exhausted, it would be wise to include the HIC registration number in the next printing.

The Office of Consumer Affairs does monitor the advertising practices of home improvement contractors.  We recently scanned dozens of telephone books for the advertisements of residential contractors.  Because education is our first priority in matters like these, we mailed letters to hundreds of contractors informing them their advertisements did not contain their HIC registration numbers.  We explained the rule and identified what the penalties could be – fines and/or a reprimand or the suspension or revocation of their registrations.

Contractors are becoming increasingly aware of the advertising rules.  I receive more business cards at home shows and trade shows now than I did a few years ago.  That’s a good sign.

Steven J. Zuilkowski is a hearing officer for the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.  Steve conducts hearings to determine whether contractors have violated the Massachusetts Home Improvement Contractor Law.  To have your questions relating to home improvement contracting answered by Steve in a blog post, write to him at steven.zuilkowski@state.ma.us.

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