By Angela M. Ward, Attorney
Owning a home should be a happy experience. But sometimes careless or even dishonest contractors or real estate agents can cheat you out of money and peace of mind. You don’t have to put up with it.
In Pennsylvania, homeowners are protected from contractor and real estate fraud under The Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) and the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act.
These acts provide the citizens of Pennsylvania with legal protection from unfair or deceptive acts or practices from contractors, builders, home sellers, and real estate agents. The acts also provide you with real legal leverage that allows you to seek damages in many types of consumer transactions, including a wide variety of home contractor services and most types of residential real estate sales.
If You’ve Been a Victim of Real Estate Fraud, You Have Rights!
The Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law is well known for protecting consumers from unfair trade practices in goods and services, but this law also covers misrepresentation and fraud in the sale of residential real estate.
That means that fraud complaints against realtors and sellers of real estate are considered unfair trade practices and can be prosecuted in the same ways. Real estate fraud can include undisclosed property conditions, a breach of contract, and violations of Pennsylvania’s Seller’s Disclosure Act. The Seller’s disclosure act states;
“A seller must disclose to a buyer all known material defects about property being sold that are not readily observable. “
1996 amendments to the law address all manners of deceptive conduct through a “catchall” definition of unfair trade. As a result, there are few strict limitations on what is and isn’t an unfair trade practice, and the law is therefore open to many interpretations. Contact us if you think you have been treated unfairly or dishonesty by a home seller or real estate agent.
If You’ve Been a Victim of Contractor or Builder Fraud, You Have Rights!
The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act was passed to protect Pennsylvanians from home improvement contractors, workmen, and builders that act dishonestly. In legal terms, a home improvement may include any work “done in connection with land or a portion of the land adjacent to a private residence or a building or a portion of the building which is used or designed to be used as a private residence for which the total cash price of all work agreed upon between the contractor and owner is more than $500.”
Most types of work on your home and property are covered under the act. The act specifically includes home repairs, replacements, remodeling, demolitions, removals, renovations, installations, alterations, conversions, modernizations, improvements, rehabilitation, or even sandblasting.
The act further explains that the term “home improvement” is broad, and includes construction, replacement, installation, or improvement of the following:
- Swimming pools
- Garage roofs
- Heating and cooling systems (HVAC)
- Solar energy systems
- Security systems
It’s important to remember that in this act, a home improvement only applies to work done in connection with a “private residence.” A private residence is used as a dwelling and includes a wide variety of residences, including single-family dwelling, a multifamily dwelling consisting of not more than two units, or any single unit located within any multifamily dwelling, including condominiums and co-op units.
Pennsylvania law specifically provides for the recovery of actual damages the consumer has sustained, all costs, applicable interest, and associated attorney’s fees. That means that your award will cover the cost of retaining a lawyer.
In addition, in cases of extreme bad conduct, the plaintiff may be awarded triple damages or up to three times the actual damages the consumer has sustained.
Protect Yourself Against Common Contractor Fraud
Two of the more common home improvement violations include the failure to fully disclose work costs and the failure to use appropriate or specified materials. In these cases, the contractor may quote one price, and charge you substantially more. When a contractor fails to use the appropriate or specified materials, a contractor substitutes less expensive materials without disclosure or permission, and without reducing the costs appropriately.
The Acts also protect homeowners from contractors who deliver shoddy, subpar or unsafe work, the failure to complete ongoing home improvements within a reasonable time frame, and the failure to refund a deposit for when the contractor cancels the job or when the consumer dismisses them for performance reasons.
For homeowners looking to seek damages of $5,000 or less, small claims court is usually the best route. For claims of $15,000 or more, you may want to seek legal representation. Contact us at Going and Plank to discuss your case in more details.
Want to learn more about consumer rights for homeowners? Check out this blog.