“Since Superstorm Sandy hit the shore in October 2012 we have seen an influx of home improvement contractors come into the County, many of whom are not registered with the state,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, chairman of Consumer Affairs. “In OceanCounty, we protect our consumers and I have instructed Consumer Affairs Director Stephen Scaturro to increase vigilance in these areas.
“We will be stepping up enforcement of the laws governing violations of the Home Improvement Contractors Registration Act, the Weights and Measures Statutes and the Consumer Fraud Act,” Vicari said.
Failing to register as a home improvement contractor in New Jersey is a fourth degree indictable crime punishable by up to $7,500 in fines and 18 months in jail.
A team of investigators led by Consumer Affairs Department Deputy Director Ed McBride and Weights and Measures Division Deputy Superintendent Barry Wieck have recently signed complaints against individuals in violation of consumer laws.
Among those found in violation were Randy Chmara, doing business as Randy Chmara HVAC in StaffordTownship, and an unregistered contractor. He has been charged with failure to register as a home improvement contractor with the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs and numerous contract violations after negotiating a contract with a BrickTownship home owner whose home was damaged by Superstorm Sandy. Chmara pled guilty to the charges and was fined $1,000 for being an unregistered contractor and $3,500 for the contract violations plus court costs.
Scaturro said Michael Ferrara doing business as Mikes Handyman Service, New Egypt, was charged with numerous contract violations after negotiating a contract with a Wrightstown homeowner who claimed a refund for work not done. Ferrara pled guilty and was fined $2,500 and $385 in restitution plus court costs.
Scaturro said that Robert Faucher, doing business as Faucher and Son Tree Experts, Point Pleasant, was charged with failure to register as a home improvement contractor with the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs and failure to provide a contract to a Point Pleasant homeowner. Faucher volunteered to a Mediation Conference with Director Scaturro where it was agreed that he pay $5,000 in restitution to the consumer and register as a home improvement contractor. The $5,000 was paid and his registration has been submitted.
Meanwhile, Scaturro said Gregory Sims, doing business as G&S Heating & Cooling, of the Bayville section of BerkeleyTownship, was charged with failure to register as a home improvement contractor with the New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs and contract violations after negotiating a contract with an Oakhurst homeowner.
Sims failed to appear in court for the second time and a Bench Warrant for his arrest was issued by Berkeley Township Municipal Court Judge James Gluck.
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is designed to protect consumers from misrepresentation, fraud and deception in consumer transactions, including contracts for home improvement work. In addition, the Contractors’ Registration Act requires home
improvement contractors to register with the State. Home improvement contractors had to initially register with the Division of Consumer Affairs by Dec. 31, 2005, and must register annually thereafter, unless specifically exempted.
Home improvement contractors who are not registered with Consumer Affairs will not be issued municipal construction permits and will not be permitted to perform home improvement work in New Jersey.
“Permits are needed for almost all of the work that is done on a house,” Vicari said. “Permits also are needed for raising a house. Getting a permit from the municipality also helps to protect the homeowner.”
Homeowners should ask questions of their potential contractors when it comes to licenses, registrations, references, and work estimates.
“Home repairs can be costly and time consuming,” Vicari said. “The first step a homeowner needs to take is to make sure they have a qualified contractor who will do the work as outlined in a contract.”
The County Department of Consumer Affairs provides the following tips:
•Contact your local Consumer Affairs Department to see if consumers have filed any complaints against the contractor, and to ensure the contractor is registered.
•Get written estimates from at least three contractors. Ask each contractor how long they have been in business, if they have liability insurance (as required by law), and whether they will be using subcontractors on the project.
•Contact the references your contractor gives you. Ask them whether the job was completed on time, whether there were any unexpected costs, whether the workers showed up on time and cleaned up when they finished, and whether they would use the contractor again.
•Ask your contractor about his or her professional affiliations and confirm the information with those organizations.
•Investigate financing options for your project. Shop for credit and be sure you understand the annual percentage rate you will have to pay.
•Do not pay for the entire job up front. The customary arrangement is one-third in advance, one-third halfway through the job and one-third upon completion. Do not pay with cash.
OceanCounty residents can contact the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs by calling 732-929-2105 or by visiting the department on the web at www.co.ocean.nj.us.
“We know this continues to be a very difficult time for many of our residents that were directly impacted by the storm,” Vicari said. “We want to do all we can to assist them in finding qualified professionals to get the work done and to get it done right.” [TLS]