By Angela M. Ward, Attorney
Owning a home is one of life’s biggest expenses, from the initial purchase to the constant upkeep, repairs, and improvements. In 2021, Angi’s State of Home Spending research reported that U.S. home improvement spending rose 25% year-over-year to an average of $10,341 per household. Homeowners who invested in home improvement did an average of 3.7 projects, up from 2.7 in 2020, averaging approximately $2,800 per project.
Choosing a general contractor can be challenging, especially with industry-wide labor shortages. And when a homeowner has a particularly expensive project–an addition, a roof replacement, or energy-efficient window replacements–the nightmare of dealing with scam artists and less reputable contractors may become a reality.
Unscrupulous contractors who do a shoddy job, substitute materials, or fail to complete the work can cause stress and even financial hardship. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law protects consumers who fall victim to the practices of disreputable contractors.
What is the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act?
The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act protects Pennsylvania homeowners from unscrupulous contractors by mandating that contractors register with the state and follow specific guidelines with regard to their contracts and dealings with consumers. The Act outlines penalties for violations, including up to three times a consumer’s actual damages.
The law defines a home improvement as any work done to a private residence or land associated with a private residence, where the total price agreed upon between the contractor and owner exceeds $500. Private residences include single-family homes, multi-family homes with no more than two units, and single units within a multi-family dwelling, such as condominiums and co-ops.
What Home Improvements are Covered?
The Act covers home repairs, replacements, remodeling, demolition, removal, renovation, installation, alteration, conversion, modernization, improvement, rehabilitation, and sandblasting.
It also covers construction, replacement, installation, or improvement of the driveways, swimming pools, pool houses, porches, garages, roofs, siding, insulation, solar energy systems, security systems, flooring, patios, fences, gazebos, sheds, cabanas, landscaping, painting, doors, windows, waterproofing, and the installation of central heating, air conditioning, storm windows, and awnings.
How Does the Act Protect Homeowners?
The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act requires a written and signed contract for any home improvement project over $500. The contract must include more than a dozen elements, such as the total cost of the project, start and completion dates, and a description of the work.
The Act also protects homeowners from contractors who produce poor or unsafe work, fail to complete work within a reasonable time, fail to return a deposit if they cancel a contract or if the homeowner dismisses them for performance reasons, or fail to complete work after receiving advance payment.
Additionally, the Act prohibits contractors from including voidable clauses in their contracts, such as clauses that would limit the consumer’s right to sue or clauses that would waive building code requirements or a contractor’s liability. Contractors who fail to abide by Pennsylvania law may be liable for the attorney’s fees, costs, and up to three times the customer’s actual damages.
How can Homeowners Protect Themselves from Dishonest Contractors?
While homeowners have safeguards under the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, they can also take steps to protect themselves from unscrupulous contractors.
Before agreeing to any home improvement project, homeowners should check the contractor’s references, verify that the contractor has registered with the state attorney general’s office, and check for complaints filed against them with the Better Business Bureau.
Homeowners should also seek bids from several contractors for comparison. A bid that is significantly lower than the rest could be a red flag that the contractor intends to use subpar materials or that they don’t understand the scope of the project.
Fraudulent contractors will often fail to disclose complete work costs. They may also substitute cheaper materials for the ones specified without adjusting the price. Never agree to work without a written contract that details all specific materials and costs, none of which the contractor can change without a written change order signed by the homeowner and the contractor.
Consult a Lancaster County Attorney
Homeowners who suspect they have been the victim of a bad contractor should seek legal representation. The Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster can ensure homeowners collect the full damages allowed under Pennsylvania law, including recovery of all costs and applicable interest, as well as the cost of retaining a lawyer. Contact Going and Plank today.
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