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General Litigation: Home Improvement Guidelines

General Litigation: Home Improvement Guidelines

This is our second in a series of blog posts regarding general litigation. As we mentioned in our last post, the focus on this series will be to highlight laws or aspects of how the law works in a particular situation that a layperson may or may not be familiar with, covering a broad range of topics from real-estate transactions to contract law. This post will focus on a few basic (but important) laws and regulations when it comes to home improvement projects in Maryland.  

What counts as an “improvement”? 

First, it’s helpful to understand how Maryland defines a home improvement project. According to Title 8 of the Code of Maryland, home improvement means “the addition to, alteration, conversion, improvement, modernization, remodeling, repair or replacement of a building or part of a building that is used or designed to be used as a residence or dwelling place or structure adjacent to that building.” The code also counts improvements to land next to a building as “home improvements”. These improvements can be made to a driveway, fence, garage, deck, pier, porch or swimming pool, and much more. 

Is your contractor legit? 

Home Improvement is an industry that often leaves consumers disappointed, financially drained, or worse: injured. Some home improvement “contractors” are not actual licensed contractors and perform shoddy work that is not safe or up to state codes. It is because of scenarios like this one that Maryland requires all home improvement projects to be completed by a Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) approved and licensed contractor. Before you make any deals, MHIC suggests interviewing at least three different contractors and checking the status of their license on the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s website. Even if you don’t have the contractor’s license number, you can search by their personal or trade name or their location.  You can (and should) also call MHIC (410-230-6309) to see if there are any recent complaints filed against a specific contractor. If something were to go wrong, you can make a claim with the MHIC and they can reimburse you for the cost of unfinished work and necessary repairs (more about this later). You don’t have this option if your contractor isn’t licensed; in that situation, you will have to hire a lawyer and file a contract lawsuit in court.  

Home improvement contracts 

 No matter the size of the project, always get the details of the agreement in writing. This contract will spell out exactly how you and the contractor agree the work should be done, the materials to be used, cost and payment. Even if the contractor is someone you know on a personal level, understand that this is a business relationship and should be treated as such. The MHIC requires licensees to provide a contract and has a number of guidelines and requirements for what it must contain. For more information on what must be included in your contract, visit the MHIC’s website 

 

Do you have a permit for that? 

Some home improvement projects will require permits from the county or even from your Home Owner’s Association (HOA). It is the contractor’s job to secure every permit necessary to properly complete a job. Make sure the contractor you select is going to obtain any necessary permits and that the cost of those permits is included in your contract before you sign it! Even if you’re able to complete the work without a permit now, you will most likely have a problem when you try to sell the property. Have the contractor show you the permit(s) before work starts on your project(s).  

MHIC Guaranty Fund 

Even if you get all your ducks in a row- you find a licensed contractor, you negotiate a fair price, you get all the permits and you sign all the contracts- life can still happen and things can still go wrong, even at the hands of a licensed professional. That is why the MHIC administers a Guaranty Fund to reimburse homeowners for loss caused by a licensed contractor who performed a home improvement job incorrectly or incompletely. The Fund is supported by licensed contractors who pay a Guaranty Fund assessment when they receive their home improvement license and each time they renew it. This is why it’s so important to verify a contractor’s license status prior to entering a home improvement contract with them. If they are not licensed or if their license has expired, you will not be able to use money from the Guaranty Fund to fix the issue. 

We are not Licensed Contractors 

But we are pretty darn good lawyers! If you find yourself in a messy situation with a shoddy or phony contractor or a homeowner who won’t honor your contract, please give us a call! The General Litigation lawyers at Ferrante and Dill, LLC will stick by your side and see your case through to the end. Call us at (410) 535-6100 or email us at info@ferrantedill.com for help today!