Home improvement projects are a common undertaking for homeowners in New Jersey. Whether it’s remodeling, renovation, or repairs, hiring a reputable and licensed home improvement contractor is essential for a successful and lawful project. New Jersey has specific legal requirements in place to protect consumers and ensure that contractors operate professionally and responsibly. In this article, we will explore the key legal requirements that home improvement contractors must adhere to in the Garden State.
1. The Broad Definition of Home Improvement
The law in New Jersey defines a “home improvement” as “the remodeling, altering, renovating, repairing, restoring, modernizing, moving, demolishing, or otherwise improving or modifying of the whole or any part of any residential or non-commercial property. Home improvement shall also include insulation installation, home elevation, and the conversion of existing commercial structures into residential or non-commercial property.” This definition is incredibly broad and even includes work to a multi-unit residential property. By way of example, a “home improvement” even includes attaching a generic and widely available wire shelf/hangar system to a wall in a residential property. Knowing the definition is critical because any work that qualifies as a “home improvement” is subject to the requirements of New Jersey’s Home Improvement Practice Regulations, N.J.A.C. 13:34A-16.1, et seq. (the “Regulations”), and by extension, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act., N.J.S.A. 56:8-1, et seq. (the “CFA”).
2. Contractor Registration and Licensing
Any contractor performing home improvement work must register with the State’s Division of Consumer Affairs. Before commencing any work, contractors are required to submit an application, undergo a background check, and provide evidence of insurance coverage. Additionally, some home improvement projects may necessitate specific licenses, such as electrical, plumbing, or HVAC work, depending on the scope of the project.
extension, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act., N.J.S.A. 56:8-1, et seq. (the “CFA”).
3. Written Contracts
Home improvement contractors are obligated to provide written contracts for projects exceeding $500. Not only must the contract for the home improvement work be in writing, it also must contain very specific terms, which, if not included, render the contract void and unenforceable by the contractor. These required terms include:
a. The legal name and business address of the contractor, including the legal name and business address of the sales representative or agent who solicited or negotiated the contract for the seller;
b. The contractor’s Division of Consumer Affairs registration number, and the DCA’s toll free telephone number must be prominently displayed on the first page of the contract;
c. A copy of the Certificate of Commercial General Liability Insurance required of a contractor under the act and the telephone number of the insurance company issuing the certificate;
d. A description of the work to be done and the principal products and materials to be used or installed in performance of the contract;
e. The total price, including all finance charges and, where applicable, the hourly rate for labor (break into hourly rate vs. material where possible);
f. The start date and completion date;
g. A description of any mortgage or security interest to be taken in connection with the financing or sale of the home improvement;
h. A statement of any guarantee or warranty with respect to any products, materials, labor or services made by the contractor; and
i. A precise and conspicuous notice of cancellation provision informing the customer of his or her right to cancel the contract by the end of the third business day after having received a copy of the contract.
Not only is this written agreement required by law, but it’s also crucial in preventing misunderstandings and disputes during and after the project.
4. Three-Day Right of Rescission
New Jersey law grants homeowners a three-day “right of rescission”” for home improvement contracts. During this period, the homeowner can cancel the contract without penalty. Contractors are required to include a clear notice of this right in the written contract, enabling homeowners to make informed decisions.
5. Consumer Fraud Act Compliance
Home improvement contractors must comply with New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, which prohibits deceptive practices, false advertising, and misrepresentations. This law ensures that contractors provide accurate information about their services and pricing, protecting homeowners from fraudulent or unscrupulous practices such as:
a. Misrepresenting that a homeowner’s residence home will be used as a model in order to mislead the homeowner into believing she will receive a price reduction or other compensation;
b. Misrepresenting the products or materials to be used;
c. Using “bait selling” tactics like discouraging the use of certain products in order to induce the homeowner to purchase higher priced items, substituting materials without the homeowner’s consent, and misrepresenting that certain products have a long delivery time or are unavailable to induce the homeowner to purchase higher priced items;
d. Offering gifts, free items or bonuses without disclosing the terms and conditions of the offer;
e. Misrepresenting pricing and financing terms;
f. Making misrepresentations about a competitor, such as claiming that the work of a competitor was performed by the contractor or that a contractor’s products, materials, or workmanship are equal to or superior to that of a competitor;
g. Failing to begin work in a timely manner unless a delay occurs for reasons beyond the contractor’s control, in which case the contractor must give written notice to homeowner of the reasons for the delay and provide new start and end dates;
h. Commencing work before all applicable code requirements are met and construction permits are obtained; and
i. Failing to provide written copies of any applicable warranties, including any exclusions to the scope and duration of the warranties, at the time the contractor places the bid and at the time of contracting.
6. Permits and Inspections
Certain home improvement projects may require permits and inspections from the local municipality. It is the responsibility of the contractor to obtain the necessary permits and schedule inspections as required by local building codes. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in fines and project delays.
Navigating the legal requirements for home improvement contractors in New Jersey is vital for both contractors and homeowners. By complying with the Regulations and the Consumer Fraud Act, contractors can establish credibility and trust with their clients, while homeowners can be confident that their projects will be handled professionally and ethically. For homeowners planning home improvement projects, it is crucial to verify a contractor’s registration and licensing status and carefully review the written contract before commencing work. Consulting with legal and industry experts can further ensure that all parties involved are aware of their rights and responsibilities, leading to successful home improvement projects.