It is easy for many consumers to fall for some of the tactics employed by predatory residential contractors. This is why the law looks at the individual consumer under the “least sophisticated consumer standard” in this type of case. The law plainly places the burden of knowing the regulations on the contractor, but, where the consumer is unaware of her/his rights, caveat emptor (Latin for ‘let the buyer beware’).
Therefore, Attorney General Regulations at 201 CMR 18.00, et seq., and M.G.L. c. 142A spell out some of the requirements that home improvement contractors must abide by in order to meet their own professional duty, under Massachusetts law.
It is up to the homeowner to be aware and not “sleep on your rights” prior to and at the time of contracting. Don’t let your dream home become the nightmare on your street.
Massachusetts law defines “residential contracting” as:
The reconstruction, alteration, renovation, repair, modernization, conversion, improvement, removal or demolition or the construction of an addition to any pre-existing owner-occupied building containing at least one but not more than four dwelling units, which building or portion thereof is used or designed to be used as a residence or dwelling unit, or to structures which are adjacent to such residence or building, including but not necessarily limited to: garages, sheds, cabanas, pool houses, gazebos.” 201 CMR 18.00, et seq. Home Improvement Contractor Registration and Enforcement of Home Improvement Contractor Program.
In Massachusetts, the manner that home improvement contractors can engage and do residential contracting business with Massachusetts consumers is strictly regulated and enforced. The relevant laws set out the basic rules that say what a home improvement contractor can and cannot do at your home. Here are a few of the major red flags to look out for, if you are a homeowner seeking to choose a home improvement contractor in Massachusetts:
Red Flag #1: Contractor asks for more than 1/3 of the cost of the project up front.
M.G.L. c.142A s.2(a)(6) sets out the limits of what a contractor can ask for payment and when. It says that, absent special circumstances like custom orders, the contractor cannot ask for more than 1/3 of the total cost up front.
Red Flag #2: Contractor demands full payment in order to complete the job.
M.G.L. c.142A s.2(a)(6) sets out the limits of what a contractor can ask for payment and when. It says that the contractor cannot demand payment until if and when the job is completed to both parties’ reasonable satisfaction. If the contractor becomes insecure, it may be able to require the consumer to place the outstanding balance of the funds for the project into escrow.
Red Flag #3: Contractor does not have its registration number(s) listed on its contract, advertisement material, or vehicles.
M.G.L. c.142A s.2 requires the contractor to list its registration number in the contract for services. M.G.L. c.142A s.17 requires the contractor to list its registration number in any advertising material and, further, makes unlawful any deceptive or misleading statement of fact.
Red Flag #4: Contractor refuses to list on the contract the specific products and materials you are contracting for. For example, you agree on Andersen windows and doors but the contractor delivers Harvey windows.
M.G.L. c.142A s.17(4) prohibits the contractor from failing to include the specific products you have agreed to use on the project. M.G.L. c. 142A s.2(4) requires the contractor to list “[…] a detailed description of the work to be done and the materials to be used in the performance of said contract[.]
Red Flag #5: Contractor fails to give the homeowner a copy of the contract and/or begins work before furnishing a copy of the contract to the homeowner.
M.G.L. c. 142A s.2 requires the contractor to give the homeowner a copy of the contract, signed by both parties, at the time the contract is signed. It further prohibits the contractor from commencing work before the contract is provided to the consumer homeowner.
Bonus Red Flag: Contractor fails to state in writing when it will begin work and when the work will be substantially completed.
M.G.L. c. 142A s.2(a)(3) requires each contract to state “the date on which the work under the contract is scheduled to begin and the date on which said work is scheduled to be substantially completed[.]”