Massachusetts law requires any contractor performing certain home improvement work to an existing, one-to-four unit, owner-occupied home to register as a Home Improvement Contractor
with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. The law regulates the practices of home improvement contractors and provides consumer protections and recourse for homeowners against contractors who have failed to comply with this law, otherwise known as the Home Improvement Contractor Act (HIC Act). Because there are active contractors who
remain unaware of the registration requirement and their obligations under the law, our Office has enhanced its outreach and expanded its efforts to educate and raise awareness of the HIC Act and ensure that these contractors become registered. However, some contractors simply choose to work without being properly registered and habitually engage in harmful practices, such as taking a disproportionate amount of the homeowner’s money without ever finishing the project for which they contracted.
Consumers should be alert to certain tell-tale signs that the contractor engages in poor business practices and demonstrates unscrupulous conduct, both of which may result in financial harm to homeowners, including property damage to their homes. Homeowners should be particularly attentive to the following warning signs:
- Contractor does not provide current Certificate of Registration, Construction Supervisor License, or proof of Insurance upon request and before contract is signed.
- Contractor performs work that requires a license without proper licensure (i.e. electrical or plumbing), or uses unlicensed and/or unregistered subcontractors.
- Contractor starts work without a building permit when one is required, or asks the homeowner to obtain the permit.
- Contractor does not provide you with a copy of the signed contract or any written change orders.
- Contractor asks for more than the legally allowed deposit (1/3) up-front or continuously asks for money to cover unexpected costs.
- Contractor asks for money to cover items unrelated to and not contained in the contract, such as gas, especially around the holidays.
- Contractor does not use materials specifically listed in the contract or uses different or less expensive materials without the homeowner’s consent.
- Contractor does not perform any work after the deposit is given or continually provides excuses for delaying the project start. Contractor fails to include in the contract realistic start and completion dates.
- Subcontractors inform you that they haven’t been paid even when you have given sufficient money to the contractor.
- Contractor or subcontractor performs work in a sloppy or defective manner and refuses to fix defective work, or cannot fix mistakes after several attempts.
- Contractor does not provide receipts for cash payments or submit invoices for work listed in the contract for which payments have already been made.
- Contractor is verbally abusive or uses threatening behavior to you when you approach contractor with concerns about the project.
- The construction supervisor who oversees the structural elements of the project is rarely at the property.
- Contractor threatens to stop work without additional payments from you.
The laws and rules governing the Home Improvement Contractor Program are very clear. While it is entirely possible that a contractor may make a few honest mistakes, homeowners should be suspicious if their contractor exhibits one or more of these signs. Homeowners who believe that their contractor has engaged in any of the above practices should file a complaint with our Office. Complaint forms can be found here.
For more information about the Home Improvement Contractor Program, visit our website.
If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.
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