August 24, 2013
By Bob Incollingo
I don’t feel very hopeful about the new law just passed which makes it illegal to sell home improvement without a State-issued badge on your chest, starting next August. See, P.L.2013, c.144.
On balance, I think it’s not a bad idea to require identification, but badges? To cut down on consumer fraud currently, all New Jersey home improvement contracts, advertisements, business documents, correspondence, and commercial vehicles must bear the remodeler’s name and registration number. To cut down on consumer fraud a year from now, every home improvement salesman will wear a special home improvement salesman badge when selling a job.
Sure, that will work.
I make a good part of my living representing both law abiding contractors and property owners. Having witnessed the aftermath up close, I have been angered by news accounts of crooked remodelers who prey on the elderly and those distressed by weather emergencies. It’s past time to do something, I figure. Whether they slink across the bridge or rise from homegrown shadows, unregistered contractors break the law with every job they take. And they do “take” these jobs from honest tradesmen who must compete on an unlevel field. The cost of compliance with the contractor registration law is never built into an illegal quote. In my opinion, the unfair cost advantage graced on the petty criminals who raid the South Jersey home improvement market should be crushed by active prosecution of the law. With nothing to lose, the result of lax enforcement is that bad men simply walk away from bad outcomes.
On the other hand, except in cases of outright fraud, I might argue that everyone is exactly where they belong. No one questions an unmarked truck in front of a house getting a new roof. It’s the rare homeowner who asks up front for the protection of a legally compliant contract. “All work to be as specified” on a one page invoice rules the day. There are already enough statutes on the books to keep every deal square, but few care. And so what? Homeowners who shop for nothing but price get what they pay for, along with the stupidity tax. Relax. Word will get around and these things will sort themselves out. But they haven’t yet.
New Jersey needs the political will and the resources to pursue the crooks, not more red tape on the good guys. Instructing a remodeler to buy liability insurance does nothing to prevent or to remedy a shoddy job. Requiring a registration number to pull a permit does nothing to stop an end run by a straw homeowner applicant. I suspect that passing out badges won’t help a lick, either. We don’t need fishing licenses pinned to our hats to stop poaching, we need more game wardens willing to board a boat.
You can read the jaw-dropping new law here.
Robert J. Incollingo is a South Jersey business, construction and real estate litigator whose practice focuses on protecting contractors, suppliers, and private owners.