Four contractors were fined by the state Office of Consumer Affairs last week, which also revealed it had run a small sting operation to try to snag unregistered contractors.
Investigators invited a few contractors who ran ads on Craigslist and in local newspapers to a Central Massachusetts home on the guise of doing roofing, decking and window replacement work.
A couple of contractors who showed up admitted they had not registered with the office, something required by law. Another was registered, but not under the name listed in his advertisement. All ads must include the name of the registered business name and its registration number. You can check that information on the Consumer Affairs website to verify the contractor's registration is current and to see what complaints are on file, too.
It might not seem like that big of a deal, but the sting highlights that there are still easily found contractors who aren't playing by the rules. Consumers who hire them are taking a lot more risks than they would if they used someone who was properly registered – a distinction that ensures the contractors have insurance, that there's someplace to turn if there's a dispute, and to have the protection of the state Guaranty Fund, which enables homeowners who suffer monetary losses to apply for compensation. The Guaranty Fund only stands behind registered contractors.
Being registered doesn't signify quality. It's a minimum requirement every consumer should insist upon. More than 25,000 home improvement contractors are registered with the state, so there's no shortage to pick from.
Here’s some additional guidance from the state about using a contractor:
- Make sure you get a contract in writing with the terms of the work spelled out in detail. That's required for any job of more than $1,000 and has to say when the work will start, when it is expected to be done, when payments are due, and specifics about the project and materials.
- Limit the initial payment to one-third or less of the total agreed-upon price. The exception to that is if the contractor has to special order or custom make items for the job.
- Be sure you've checked with other consumers who have used the contractor – ideally at least three people – and ask if you could check out the work that was done.
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About the author
Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com