Home improvements can cause homeowners as many, and sometimes more, headaches as building a new home. Until recently, home improvement contractors were essentially unregulated, which led to many unskilled and sometimes dishonest contractors preying upon innocent homeowners. In response, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (“DCA”) required home improvement contractors to register with the State as of December 31, 2005. N.J.A.C. 13:45A-17.1, et seq. The registration includes the registration of the formal name and address of the company, including all trade names, as well as the disclosure of the name and address of the principals of the company and any criminal record of any of those principals.

The DCA also recently created regulations that were specific to home improvement contracts under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. The regulations take into account almost any type of home improvement, from remodeling the kitchen to repairing the driveway to installing wall-to-wall carpeting. Specific actions are prohibited by the regulations including misrepresenting the types of material used in the home improvement, failing to begin or complete work on the date or within the time period specified, failing to give timely written notice to the buyer of reasons beyond the seller’s control for any delay in performance, and when the work will begin or be completed and failing to obtain the proper building permits or inspections.

Also, any home improvement contract for a purchase price in excess of $500.00 must be in writing, must be signed by both the buyer and seller and must clearly set forth the terms of the contract. The legal name and business address of the seller, including the legal name and business address of the sales representative or agent who solicited or negotiated the contract for the seller must also be included in the contract. The contract must also include a description of the work to be done and the principal products and materials to be used or installed in performance of the contract, the total price to be paid by the buyer, the dates or time period on or within which the work is to begin and be completed and a statement of any guarantee or warranty to be provided. Violations of these regulations could result in the award of triple damages and reimbursement of counsel fees, if those violations result in damage to the homeowner.

Therefore, in addition to obtaining several bids for the work, asking for and following up with references, it may also be beneficial to homeowners who are thinking about making improvements to their home to obtain the registration information from the DCA and to make sure that the regulations provided by the DCA are followed to protect themselves from future problems.