by Rob Rubinstein, Esq.

Under oath, we would all swear we could not live without the small-business home improvement guy (or gal) who fixes our leaky roofs, dripping faucets, cracked pavement, warped decking, broken railings…well, you get the picture.

These talented and skilled individuals also help us make that long overdue move toward remodeling and/or building an addition. They may even help us make the decision to fix up the house, put in on the market, move up in the world…or downsize!

Most of the time, these decisions are very emotional. We all know they will not be stress-free. There’s always the chance of finding obstacles hidden behind walls, under floors and above ceilings. Or, building materials can arrive not as ordered, or damaged. Nonetheless, agreements to move fearlessly forward are often signed on the hood of a truck. Sometimes they are made with a simple handshake.

Work usually starts in a few weeks, pending permits and deposits. Days later, the same emotions that started the home improvement project in the first place, begin to run high.

As an experienced attorney, I know my job is not to judge. However, when it comes to the Consumer Fraud Act and the Home Repair Financing Act, I must say I find myself wanting to educate New Jersey’s business owners, who are paying a steep price as the laws allow for no leeway in their interpretation. This legislation fuels the drama of the homeowner, whose home has been literally "invaded." The homeowner, caught up in a stressful and emotional scenario that…(you guessed it!)…has been caused by the home improvement guy or gal, now wants to know their rights.

Again, you can guess what comes next…and may wonder: How could this ugly battle have been avoided?

First, home improvement professionals need to seek out and rely on legal counsel. If it is a sole proprietorship, it should consider becoming a limited liability corporation (LLC.)

Second, project agreements should be drafted by an attorney knowledgeable of – and experienced with – the Consumer Fraud Act and Home Repair Financing Act (from the perspective of the business person, of course.)

Third, the home improvement professional should have an attorney available, approachable and affordable when a project is in question.

Obviously, attorneys stand a better chance of greater remuneration when they take the homeowners’ side and win large judgments. Until the small-business owners improve their own business practices, this seemingly "unjust" behavior will continue.

If you know and love a hard-working carpenter, painter, plumber, electrician, or any other independent contractor, please clip this article and send it to them. I can help keep them on the job and out of the courtroom.

Rob Rubinstein and his partner, Kristy Bruce, make up The Rubinstein Law Firm, LLC, at 10 Rutgers Place in Trenton. Learn more at www.njpa-law.com.

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