In Part I of this series, I gave homeowners three tips for avoiding circumstances that will disqualify them from the Guaranty Fund. In today’s post, I give three more tips.
To be eligible for the Guaranty Fund, you must submit your written Guaranty Fund Application within six months of receiving your court judgment or arbitration award. The Home Improvement Contractor Law sets this six-month deadline and, accordingly, the Office of Consumer Affairs enforces it strictly. Without exception, homeowners who apply late are automatically disqualified from the Guaranty Fund. Often homeowners who apply late explain that they did not exhaust their collection efforts within the six-month time period, but homeowners do not need to exhaust their collection efforts before applying to the Guaranty Fund. Exhaustion of collection efforts is only a prerequisite to receiving a payment from the Guaranty Fund.
To be eligible for the Guaranty Fund, your contractor must issue you a written contract and that contract must list a total price for the job. Homeowners who do not have a written contract with their contractors will be summarily disqualified from accessing the Guaranty Fund. Home improvement contractors are required by law to draft a written contract for any home improvement project exceeding $1,000. The contractor is also obligated under the law to give the homeowner a copy of the contract after it is signed. The contract is required to contain, among other terms, a total price. Contractors sometimes insist on working on a “time-and-materials basis,” which is their hourly rate plus the cost of materials, without giving the homeowner a total price for the project. Not only will this billing practice disqualify homeowners from the Guaranty Fund, but it can sometimes leave homeowners with unexpectedly large bills if the project runs longer than originally anticipated.
To be eligible for the Guaranty Fund, you must not pull your own building permit. Contractors, especially those who do not have their Construction Supervisor Licenses, will sometimes invite homeowners to apply for their own building permits. By obtaining your own building permit, you declare that you are responsible for the project – not your contractor. Every town’s building permit application notifies homeowners that applying for their own permits will disqualify them from accessing the Guaranty Fund. For example, look at the permit applications for Boston, Cambridge, or the Standard Massachusetts Permit Application.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.