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Contractors performing home improvement work on owner-occupied, pre-existing one to four unit residences are required to have a Home Improvement Contractor (“HIC”) Registration and know what their responsibilities are under the HIC law, M.G.L. Chapter 142A. We all know what a pre-existing house is and we all know what a one-to-four-family residence is.  An owner-occupied home, however, is not always as easy to identify.  There are two notable instances where OCABR will consider a house to be “owner occupied,” even if the homeowner does not live there as a primary residence when the contract is signed with the contractor.

In 2001, the Massachusetts Appellate Court decided a case (Simas v. House of Cabinets, 53 Mass. App. Ct. 131, 136-137 (2001)) where a homebuyer purchased a home and wanted renovations performed prior to moving in.  The project did not go well and the homeowner sought various forms of relief under the Massachusetts HIC Law.  In court, the contractor argued that the HIC law did not apply because the owner did not yet occupy the house.  However, the court ruled that a home is considered owner-occupied when the homeowner hires a contractor and intends to live in the home as a primary residence once the construction is complete.

The OCABR has interpreted this ruling to mean that the new owner will move into his/her primary residence as soon as the home improvement work is completed, not at some indefinite time in the future. This situation usually occurs when a homebuyer purchases a home that needs repairs or is uninhabitable.  In those circumstances, contractors must have a HIC registration prior to signing a contract with those homeowners.

Contractors should also be aware that the person who owns the home is not the only person that will be considered an owner.  For the purposes of determining whether a home is owner-occupied, OCABR considers “a tenant authorized by the homeowner, who orders, contracts for, or purchases the services of a contractor or subcontractor” to be an owner.  See 201 CMR 18.01(2) Owner.  In other words, if a tenant of a home, with the permission of the record owner, hires a contractor, the home will be considered owner- occupied.  Only on rare occasions will a tenant purchase home improvement services valued over $1,000, but contractors should be aware that an HIC registration is required for those projects.

The intent of the HIC program is to provide standards throughout the industry and protections for homeowners from being taken advantage of by a bad contractor. Registered contractors must follow certain rules regarding contracts, payments, advertising, and business practices. And homeowners need to know the eligibility requirements in order to benefit from arbitration or the Guaranty fund. Contractors or homeowners with questions about home improvement should 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 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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