NEWARK – (RealEstateRama) — Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs announce today the issuance of 136 Notices of Violation to contractors during 2016, resulting in total penalties of $483,350 and total restitution of $1,421,938.41.
These actions are part of the Division’s continuing crackdown on contractors who do not comply with state laws. In addition to issuing the Notices of Violation, the Division has also filed various Superior Court cases against contractors who were hired by consumers to repair or rebuild after damage sustained during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, with funds from the State’s Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (“RREM”) Program. These RREM cases typically involve multiple consumers and more complicated allegations, whereas Notices of Violation typically involve single consumer complaints.
“It is unacceptable that certain unscrupulous contractors are violating state law and not doing the work that they promised consumers, especially those still recovering from Superstorm Sandy,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Whether through the Superior Court or through Notices of Violation, contractors who break the law will continue to be held accountable.”
“The cases we brought in 2016 should send a clear message that the Division will not tolerate contractors who fail to live up to their obligations to consumers,” said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We urge consumers who feel they have been the victims of fraud or other violations of law by contractors to report these actions to the Division immediately.”
Notices of Violation were issued to contractors in 19 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, with the largest number (17) being issued in Camden County. Other counties where 10 or more Notices of Violation were issued: Atlantic (10), Burlington (11), Essex (15), Morris (16) and Union (11). In addition, 11 Notices of Violation were issued to out-of-state contractors. No Notices of Violation were issued in Mercer and Warren counties.
The penalties issued to individual companies ranged from a low of $1,000 to a high of $7,000. Restitution amounts sought ranged from $250 to $134,092.89. Of the notices issued, 51 were for unregistered practice.
Of those issued notices, 48 entered into Consent Orders to resolve the notices. Another 28 defaulted, and four paid the penalties outlined in the notice. Another 55 cases remain open.
A contractor who is issued a Notice of Violation can contest the assertion or can correct the violation by discontinuing any practices in violation of the law. He or she may pay a civil penalty and/or restitution where required. If not registered, the contractor also will apply for registration. Contractors also may contest the Division’s assessment of consumer restitution.
In addition to the Notices of Violation, since July, the Division has filed six civil actions against home improvement contractors for allegedly defrauding more than 100 consumers who hired them to repair or rebuild storm-damaged homes, including 99 who lost more than $3.8 million in federal relief funds.
The complaints, filed in Superior Court in Ocean and Atlantic counties, allege the contractors engaged in various unconscionable consumer practices that included taking money from consumers to repair, rebuild, and/or elevate storm-damaged homes and then failing to begin work, performing the work in a substandard manner, and/or abandoning unfinished projects without returning for weeks, months, or at all.
Among the alleged victims were those who paid the contractors with federal relief grants they received from the RREM Program, the state’s largest rebuilding initiative managed by the Department of Community Affairs. Others alleged victims lost federal grant money they received from the Landlord Rental Repair Program, a Department of Community Affairs’ relief program that provides landlords with money for the restoration of storm-damaged rental properties through rehabilitation, reconstruction, elevation, and/or other mitigating activities.
Tips for Consumers, When Hiring a Contractor:
Learn about any contractor before deciding to hire them. It is ideal to work with a contractor who is recommended by people you know. It also is advisable to ask the contractor for references and speak with those references about the contractor’s work.
Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs to learn if the contractor is duly registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey, and learn whether the contractor has been the subject of consumer complaints and/or legal action by the Division, or to learn more about contractors who have been cited by the Division. You can call the Division at 800-242-5846 or use the Division’s website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov.
Before hiring the contractor, demand a copy of the contractor’s liability insurance policy and contact the insurer to learn whether the policy is valid.
Obtain a written contract. Contracts for home improvement projects costing $500 or more must be in writing. They must include the legal name, business address, and registration number of the contractor as well as a start date, completion date, description of the work to be done, and the total price, along with a notice informing consumers that they have the right to cancel the contract within three days and receive a full refund.
Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing, and that the contract states the name brands or quality/grades of the materials to be used. Ensure that all applicable construction permits are obtained by the contractor, from the appropriate municipality. Remember that it is not customary to pay for the entire project in advance.
Investigators Joseph Iasso, Brittany Kieran, Maureen Browne, Raquel Davis-Williams, Jared O’Cone, Katelyn Robertello of the Division of Consumer Affairs’ Office of Consumer Protection, conducted these investigations.
Deputy Attorneys General from the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law represented the State in these actions.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
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C. John Schoonejongen
or Lisa Coryell