What Are New Jersey Contractors?
Per New Jersey’s Contractors' Registration Act, home improvement contractors are defined as persons or commercial entities that are engaged in the provision and sales of home improvement services. These services include the remodeling, renovating, altering, repairing, improving, and modernizing of residential and non-commercial properties as well as home elevation, home insulation, and the reconstruction of existing commercial properties for residential use. Home improvement contractors are mandatorily required to complete an annual occupational registration with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which is the state’s occupational and professional regulatory body that oversees more than 750,000 individuals and businesses in the state through 51 professional and occupational regulatory boards and committees. Note that New Jersey home improvement contractors are typically only required to register with the relevant board and do not have to sit for a licensing examination. In contrast, some professionals in the state such as architects, electricians, plumbers, and HVACR contractors are mandatorily required to write and pass a qualifying exam before they can obtain a professional license.
Similarly, the New Jersey Supreme Court is responsible for the admission to practice, professional licensure, and regulation of the over 41,000 attorneys in the state. This court’s Board on Attorney Certification also offers certification in specialized legal fields to licensed state attorneys.
Tips for Hiring a Contractor
in New Jersey
As a homeowner, you will typically need to carry out home improvement projects on your property at one point or the other. This project can be as relatively straightforward as remodeling your kitchen or as complex as altering the entire structure of your home. While trying to cut the substantial costs that come with home improvement projects, there are other things that you must not give up or compromise. It is not sufficient to only look for the contractor who charges the least fee. You must also ensure that you hire qualified and licensed professionals who will deliver satisfactory work in a timely and truly professional manner. To achieve this, you consider the following tips:
- Seek contractor references from relatives, neighbors, and trusted friends who have done a similar project.
- Speak with at least three contractors from those recommended to you about their work history to be sure they have experience handling projects like yours. You should also take this opportunity to ask for local verifiable references.
- Make sure to speak to each reference provided by your prospective contractor to get a firsthand review of the work done by the contractor. You should also ask permission to visit these past clients for an inspection of the contractors’ completed works.
- Do not rely solely on the fact that the contractors were recommended to you. Ask for proof of work authorization. Home improvement contractors in New Jersey must show you proof of current registration, while other building trade professionals such as electrical, plumbing, and HVACR contractors must present a professional license. Beware of home improvement contractors who claim to have a “state-issued license” instead of a "current registration” status, this is usually a red flag.
- Ask to see a home repair contractor or salesperson’s license issued by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance (DOBI) if your home repair project is to be funded through a financing arrangement or if a salesperson tries to secure a financed home repair project for you on behalf of a contractor. Note that home repair salespersons may only act on behalf of one licensed contractor at a time. You can verify these licenses online with the DOBI.
- Verify contractor registration or license numbers online with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. You can also contact the New Jersey Division of Consumer Protection toll-free from within the state at (800) 242-5846 to make further inquiries about a contractor’s history with regulatory agencies.
- Take extra precautions if you will be executing a home elevation project. These types of projects involve adding a floor or more to your property, and home elevation contractors are required to possess additional insurance and bonding coverages. Always verify these coverages with the issuing organizations.
- Ask for a written contract for your project. The state’s home improvement law requires that a written contract exists for home improvement projects worth $500 or more. This written contract must include key information such as the contractor’s legal name, business address and other contact information, state registration or license number, project description, proposed start and estimated completion dates for the project, total cost of the project including all other conditional payments to be made by the homeowner, and payment arrangements. Be wary of contractors who dismiss the need for a written contract. Dealing with such a contractor makes you vulnerable and puts you in a potentially compromising situation.
- Do not sign a contract that you do not fully understand. Instead, hire a qualified attorney to vet the terms and conditions of the contract and ensure that there are no hidden malicious clauses.
- Make payments in a manner that is commensurate with the level of work done. The New Jersey Administrative Code forbids home improvement contractors from asking for final payment before work is completed per the agreed terms and conditions of the project’s contract. Also, avoid contractors who seek large advance payments. Financially responsible contractors will be able to start the project without asking you for a large upfront payment, given that you both already signed a written contract.
- Avoid paying cash as much as possible. Paying with credit cards or checks affords you the option of disputing a charge and serves good record-keeping purposes.
- Maintain a copy of all contracts, warranties, receipts, quotes, and other paperwork related to your project.
- New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs
- P.O. Box 45025
- Newark, NJ 07101
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs oversees the mandatory annual registration of home improvement contractors in the state and also issues specialty licenses to contractors like electricians, master plumbers, and HVACR contractors. You can confirm that your contractor has fulfilled all relevant licensing or registration requirements and possess a valid license by performing a search through this division’s online verification platform.
In addition, contractors involved in the building of new homes in New Jersey are required to undergo additional registration with the state’s Department of Community Affairs. As such, if your project belongs to this category, you should contact this department at (609) 292-6420 to confirm that your home building contractor has been duly registered. You can also access a list of builders that are currently registered with this department online.
Note that, per the New Jersey Home Improvement Contractors Registration Act, performing home improvement work without registering with the Division of Consumer Affairs is considered a crime of the fourth degree, and thus, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000. Violators may also face additional civil and criminal penalties.
How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
Contractor charges for home improvement projects depend on various factors, including the type of project, size and scope of the project, and accessibility of the worksite. While an exact charge for a project can not be provided, home improvement contractors in New Jersey charge an average of $30 to $70 per hour. The following are project-specific estimates for home improvement works in New Jersey:
For contractor-specific charges, the following are the average hourly estimates:
Given that most substantial home improvement projects will require the services of a qualified attorney for the supervision and execution of the legal aspects of the projects, the average hourly fee of New Jersey attorneys ranges between $150 - $300.
What Are Home Improvement
Scams in New Jersey?
Complaints related to home improvement projects were the second most common consumer complaints made in the United States in 2019. Home improvement projects typically involve a considerable amount of risks, part of which is the possibility of being scammed by unscrupulous contractors. These dubious home improvement contractors go about pretending to be genuine contractors looking for home improvement projects to execute but end up cheating homeowners. Some of the ways by which these contractors scam homeowners include doing incomplete jobs, using inferior parts, price gouging, and in severe cases, taking large advance payments without doing any work.
Homeowners in New Jersey must realize these risks and take proactive steps to avoid falling for these scams. The following are indications that a home improvement contractor may be attempting to perpetrate a home improvement scam:
- The home improvement contractor claims to hold a license, in place of current registration status, from the state’s Division of Consumers Protection.
- The home improvement contractor claims to have been in the neighborhood and offers to quickly get a project done for you.
- The home improvement contractor is unable to provide a verifiable registration number and business name and goes about with an unmarked or out-of-state vehicle.
- The home improvement contractor insists that you obtain the work permits yourself or completely dismisses the need for one, usually in a bid to evade regulatory agencies.
- The home improvement contractor asks for cash payment without offering you an official payment receipt.
Considering this, homeowners are advised to deal with only registered and licensed contractors that are evaluated on an annual basis by the relevant professional licensing and regulatory authorities. To report suspicious home improvement contracting activities, homeowners should contact the Consumer Service Center of New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs at (973) 504-6200.
It is not enough for homeowners to only know about the risks in hiring home improvement contractors. Homeowners must also be able to recognize home improvement scams from the outset and equally be able to stop them in their tracks. Fraudulent home improvement contractors often target people they believe will put up the least resistance, such as the older generation and uninformed homeowners. The following are some of the most common home improvement scams that have been carried out in New Jersey:
- Door-to-door scam: The majority of the time, an unsolicited home improvement pitch is an indication for the homeowner to take caution. This type of scam involves dubious contractors going from one house to another, offering home improvement services to homeowners at a discounted rate. In a bid to put you off from questioning why they are offering you a discount instead of a surcharge for bringing the service to your doorstep, they claim to have leftover materials from a recently finished job. Once events play out in the manner described above, it is advisable to avoid dealing with such contractors and report them to the appropriate authorities.
- Model Home scam: This home improvement scam involves a home improvement contractor asking you to allow your residential property to be used for advertising or modeling purposes in a bid to get you to agree to a deal. This request is usually accompanied by the promise of a price discount or compensation. Do not allow this. Aside from the fact that you may not receive the promised compensation, there is usually no financial coverage policy in place in the event of property damage.
- Advance fee scam: This scam is as the name implies. After you have unknowingly agreed to deal with fraudulent contractors, they attempt to pressure you into making large financial commitments upfront with the intention of making away with your money once it is received. Although no state laws specify the maximum down payment that you may make, it is generally advisable to pay only a small fraction of the project’s total cost at the start. For example, you could start out by paying only a third of the agreed project cost.
In 2017, the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General announced that it had filed court actions against two separate home improvement contracting companies and their owners. The two companies, Shore House Lifters and Atlantic Coast House Lifting, had deceived about 51 homeowners and obtained monies running into $1.4 million. The homeowners had received these monies from the federal relief funds. The contractors had taken payment from the homeowners to carry out repairs and house lifting on the storm-damaged residences of the homeowners and gone ahead to do shoddy jobs, used inferior materials, and in some cases ultimately failed to do the work.
Homeowners who believe they have been scammed or cheated, or suspect any other form of unfair practices from a home improvement contractor should file a complaint online with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs. Complaints can also be filed by calling either (800) 242-5864 toll-free within New Jersey or (973) 504-6200.
Disaster scams describe the dubious practices of home improvement contractors in the wake of natural disasters, such as floods, and hurricanes, aimed at defrauding distraught and desperate homeowners. It involves fraudulently taking money from homeowners to perform home repairs and rebuilding after a natural disaster. One way to squarely tackle and guard against disaster scams is to become educated and enlightened on the types and forms of these scams and the red flags to look out for when hiring after a disaster. Some of these red flags include contractors’ lack of relevant licenses and permits, out-of-state and strange contractors, and too-good-to-be-true cost discounts. The following tips will be helpful:
- Ask a contractor for a state-issued license or registration number and verify it online with the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs. It is also advisable to ask about a contractor’s professional affiliations and verify with the relevant organizations.
- Work with only locally reputed contractors who were known and trusted before the disaster. You should not consider working with relatively strange contractors, especially if they are offering discounts that are too good to be true.
- Ask for written warranties from a contractor before agreeing to the home improvement contract.
- Pay no more than a third of the entire cost upfront and complete final payment only after you have assessed and are satisfied with the quality of the finished work.
- Request for a lien waiver before you sign a home improvement contract. A lien waiver is a receipt that absolves you of any financial obligation to the subcontractors and suppliers once you have made full payment to the contractor.
- Do not allow any inspection officer into your home without seeing and verifying a valid means of identification. You can verify such identification documents by calling the official phone of the agency in question.
Homeowners who have fallen victim to disaster frauds or have credible information about scams committed in the wake of a disaster can contact the Office of the State Comptroller at (855) 672-8477 or send an email.
What are Common Legal
Work Scams in New Jersey?
Legal work scams occur when an attorney, or a person pretending to be one, uses deceitful and dishonest means to scam another unsuspecting person. Legal scams may come in the form of financial frauds, contract scams, or investment scams. Consumers must therefore exercise extra care when dealing with attorneys or when generally dealing with legal matters. Some of the most common legal work scams in New Jersey include:
- The use of fraudulent legal contracts in order to cheat an unsuspecting client or partner
- The failure by attorneys to expedite service and cases when they can do so so they can clock more billable hours
- The refusal to give up clients’ properties and assets
- The unlawful and fraudulent transfer of money from clients’ accounts
Legal scams can be very financially devastating for the victims, It is, therefore, necessary that precautionary steps be taken to prevent them, and the following tips will be helpful:
- Consumers must ensure to work with attorneys on a referral basis. Relatives and trusted associates are good sources of attorney referrals. Also, it is advisable to hire attorneys who identify with a reputable professional association such as the New Jersey State Bar Association.
- Consumers should research the disciplinary history of prospective attorneys before hiring them.
- Consumers must ask for case and account updates on a frequent and consistent basis. For asset accounts, further efforts must be made to verify reports provided by the attorney.
- Consumers should hire attorneys whose certifications match their legal services needs. The Board on Certified Attorneys certifies qualified legal practitioners in various areas of law such as civil trial law, criminal law, and business law.
The Supreme Court of New Jersey maintains the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection to refund clients who have been defrauded and cheated by dishonest members of the New Jersey Bar. Clients who wish to seek compensation for an attorney’s misconduct and fraud should send a mail to:
- NJ Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection
- P.O. Box 961
- Trenton, NJ 08625-0961
Alternatively, attorney fraud victims can pay in-person visits to:
- NJ Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection
- Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex
- 25 West Market Street
- North Wing
- 5th Floor
- Trenton, NJ 08625
How Long Does it Take to Get a License in
There is no specific timeline for processing the registration application of a home improvement contractor. The volume of applications being handled by the Division of Consumer Affairs and the completeness and correctness of the required documents will typically determine how quickly a registration application can be processed. Applicants who properly follow registration instructions and provide all supporting documents as required will receive their registration confirmation by mail as soon as possible.
How to Maintain your License in New Jersey
Registered contractors in New Jersey can change the addresses on their registration profile with the state’s Division of Consumer Protection by mailing a copy of a completed Address Change form to:
- New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs
- Regulated Business
- Home Improvement Contractors
- P.O. Box 46016
- Newark, NJ 07101
Similarly, to complete a change of business name, structure, or ownership, registrants must complete and mail a Home Improvement Contractor’s Registration Change of Business Structure/Name/Ownership Form to the mailing address above. Registered home improvement contractors are required to file a modification registration with the state’s Division of Consumer Affairs within 20 days of a name or business status change to reflect such change in their registration information.
Attorneys in New Jersey must complete 24 credit hours of qualifying Continuing Legal Education (CLE) from approved legal education service providers over a period of two years. Attorneys are required to annually report at least five credit hours of CLE in ethics and professionalism, including two credit hours in diversity, inclusion, and elimination of bias.
How to Renew Contractor License in
Home improvement contractor registrants in New Jersey must renew their registrations annually with the Division of Consumer Affairs by obtaining the appropriate renewal form from the Division at:
- Division of Consumer Affairs
- Office of Consumer Protection
- Regulated Business Section
- 124 Halsey Street
- 7th Floor
- Newark, NJ 07101
Similarly, the Supreme Court of New Jersey mandates attorneys in the state to complete annual attorney registration online through the New Jersey Court’s attorney web portal and also pay an annual membership fee of $212.