This is how NJ intends to fight home contractor fraud
TRENTON – Home improvement and home elevation contractors would need to have professional licenses from the state, under a long-discussed bill that has finally taken the first step through the Legislature.
The timing of the bill’s consideration in relation to New Jersey’s bad-weather history was noted – just over one year since Hurricane Ida, with the 10th anniversary of Superstorm Sandy a month away – though the headaches residents have with fly-by-night contractors aren’t limited to the recovery after a storm.
How the law would work
The bill, A2138, would establish a new board overseeing home contractor licensing that would determine if someone had completed an apprenticeship program or has the relevant experience and passes a knowledge exam. There would also be continuing education requirements and a code of ethics.
Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, noted that to paint nails as a manicurist in New Jersey, someone need 300 hours of instruction and to pass a state exam.
“But if you want to pound nails and build someone a new addition to their home, you don’t need anything except just pay for a business license,” Moriarty said. “And it’s just preposterous and ridiculous. And we need to fix this.”
At the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee meeting where the bill advanced, four residents who endured terrible experiences with home contractors testified in favor of the proposed changes.
"They’ll be exposed very quickly"
Subi Koppula of Nutley said the oversight is what’s needed to prevent fraud.
“I don’t believe that this bill would make doing business hard. In fact, I believe that legitimate contractors would go the extra mile to get licenses,” Koppula said. “Fees may go up, but it will be well worth it. There will be less fraud, less legal issues, and the bad contractors, they’ll be exposed very quickly.”
Koppula has been a licensed engineer for 13 years and experienced in the field for 20 years and said it baffles her that the contractor who builds the plans she creates doesn’t need to be licensed.
The bill exempts from licensure anyone currently registered as a home improvement or elevation contractor in the state for at least five years. David Brook of Hillsborough said that should only apply to people without complaints or court proceedings against them.
“We need a law that will establish one word for contractors that has been missing for so long. That word is accountability,” Brook said.
Moriarty said that part of the bill is unlikely to change. In fact, it was altered at the behest of business groups to apply after five years, rather than 10 years. He noted contractors would not be grandfathered from every requirement, such as insurance and bonding.
“This is a big step, going from no licensing to licensing,” Moriarty said. “We have so many thousands and thousands of contractors. It might be frankly impossible.”
Moriarty worked with groups such as the New Jersey Builders Association on a series of changes, including ones that apply the bill to home renovation contractors but not original builders of single-family homes.
Tom Bovino, president of the New Jersey Builders Association, said the group had concerns about the original plan but considers the new version “a major step forward.”
He said bad contractors will be held accountable and that the proposed continuing education mandate would mean only qualified professionals are working in the field.
“We share the goal of this legislation to go after the unscrupulous contractors that perform shoddy work and unfortunately rip off our residents who deserve consumer protection and quality workmanship,” Bovino said.