About 130 contractors have been cited this year by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, which is seeking more than $2.1 million in restitution and civil penalties, the Attorney General's Office announced Monday.
The announcement included results of fourth-quarter consumer complaint investigations about contracting companies that never finished work paid for, or for work done improperly. Many of the contractors also were cited for not having a New Jersey registration.
The Attorney General's Division of Consumer Affairs reported that it issued violations to 35 contractors in the fourth quarter, seeking $567,676 in consumer restitution and civil penalties. The companies spread from North Jersey to the Shore, and included two Bucks County contractors that did work in New Jersey.
Those cited include landscaping companies, a pool and spa contractor, and a bulkheading firm at the Shore. There were also companies that installed windows, provided painting, or performed blacktop sealing and paving and masonry services.
"Our yearlong crackdown is bringing significant amounts of restitution back to those consumers who allegedly were left with unfinished or unsatisfactory products by contractors who refused to provide refunds," acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in a news release Monday.
"Home improvement projects are among the most expensive and stressful expenses a homeowner is likely to take on," Hoffman said.
The 35 contractors identified Monday have been ordered to pay $438,176 in restitution - with amounts ranging from $1,500 to $68,405 - for failing to complete work paid for in advance, failing to refund deposits, or other issues. The contractors also have been fined $129,500 in civil penalties for violations of New Jersey's Contractor's Registration Act.
In addition, 22 of the companies were cited for operating without state registration. To register, contractors show a street address for the company, and proof of at least $500,000 in liability insurance.
"Our partnership with New Jersey's consumers is vital to the Division of Consumer Affairs' enforcement action," said Steve Lee, Consumer Affairs' acting director. "In 2015, we will not only continue this home improvement crackdown, we will also expand the outreach through which we inform consumers about the best ways to protect themselves."
Authorities said home improvement grievances have been the largest complaint category that consumers have filed with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
For home improvements costing more than $500, New Jersey law requires that homeowners receive detailed, written contracts that include the project's agreed-upon price, start and end dates, the scope of work, and the contractor's business name, address, and registration number.
Consumer Affairs suggests homeowners research a contractor before hiring, including checking references. Tips for hiring a contractor are listed on the division's website, NJConsumerAffairs.gov.
In hiring a contractor, homeowners should obtain a written contract, which specifies any name brands or quality and grade of the materials to be used. 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.
Officials also suggest that homeowners obtain a copy of the contractor's liability insurance policy and confirm that it is valid, and get all warranties and guarantees in writing. Contractors also must obtain permits required by municipalities.
The entire project is not typically paid in advance. The general practice is to pay for one-third in advance, one-third halfway through, and one-third upon completion.