They say, “the home is where the heart is,” and as all homeowners know, it is also the place where the majority of their hard earned money and savings are spent. Whether renovating your kitchen, replacing old windows or having a new driveway installed, you must protect yourself from the few untrained and unethical home improvement contractors looking to take advantage of consumers anxious to protect their investment in their homes. New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, N.J.S.A. 56:8-1, and its accompanying regulations, N.J.A.C. 13:45A 16.2, provide the protection that homeowners deserve, and is among the strongest consumer protection legislation in the nation.
The regulations applicable to home repairs are meticulous and apply to home improvement contracts, oral or written, and affect companies as large as Home Depot and as small as individuals engaged in home improvements. For starters, the regulations require home improvement contracts in excess of $500.00 be in writing, that is clear, legible and accurate. Changes to the contract must also be in writing and signed by both parties. The contractor must have all applicable state and local building permits before starting the job. The contract must also include the legal name and business address of the contractor and the salesman, as well as all the terms, conditions, and the specific products and materials to be used on the project. Of great importance to all homeowners, the contract must state the date when the work is to begin and to be completed. Finally, the total price, including finance charges, along with a statement of any warranties or guarantees concerning the products, labor or services, must also be included.
Home improvement contractors argue that these regulations are overbearing and burdensome, but proof of a technical defect in the contract does not alone guarantee a victory for the consumer. The second, and often more difficult element of proof is that the homeowner suffered an ascertainable loss. What is an ascertainable loss? Great question. The violation of the regulation must have resulted in a loss of money or property to the consumer. For example, you enter a contract with a home improvement contractor to install an addition to your home. The contractor leaves out the beginning and end date of the project. A year later your addition is not complete, the original contractor is nowhere to be found, and you’re forced to hire someone to finish the job at a higher price. You have met the first hurdle, the regulatory violation since there was no beginning or end date, and you have likely met the second hurdle since you have suffered monetary damage in hiring a new contractor at a higher price to finish the job.
Once these proofs are met, the CFA’s teeth are then exposed. A successful plaintiff in a CFA action is entitled to triple damages and the cost of your attorney’s fees.
The CFA does impose significant requirements on home improvement contractors, but in practice it is a well balanced piece of legislation intended to protect consumers from unsavory contractors. Home improvement contractors that disclose the terms of their work, and perform their jobs in a workmanlike manner are not punished for technical contractual deficiencies. However, if you are a homeowner who has dealt with one of the few contractors who do try to take advantage of consumers, the CFA does provide you with significant remedies.
Robert F. Casey is an associate in the litigation practice at Szaferman Lakind Blumstein Blader & Lehmann, P.C.,
101 Grovers Mill Road, Lawrenceville 08648.
You can reach Mr. Casey at