New Jersey undercover investigators have nabbed several unregistered home improvement contractors who came to a Monmouth County home damaged by Superstorm Sandy and submitted estimates to perform repairs. The contractors were charged for allegedly violating the State’s Home Improvement Contractors’ Registration Act.
“We’re putting every schemer and fraudster on notice – do not attempt to enrich yourself by victimizing those who already have suffered from Superstorm Sandy and are attempting to rebuild their lives,” Acting Attorney General Hoffman said. “Either operate legally or we will hold you accountable.”
Undercover investigators identified home improvement contractors via internet listings, and after checking each for annual registration with the Division of Consumer Affairs, scheduled individual appointments with suspected unregistered contractors. A severely-damaged house on Second Street in Highlands, N.J. was made available for this investigation, with the investigators posing as the homeowners or their relatives. The Monmouth County Office of Consumer Affairs participated in this effort.
“These so-called contractors offered wildly varying assessments of the damage to the home and cost estimates for rebuilding. Consumers depend on the skill and expertise of legitimate contractors and this investigation shows the pitfalls that vulnerable homeowners face when trying to rebuild,” said Eric T. Kanefsky, Director of the State Division of Consumer Affairs. “Earlier this year, we assigned investigators to Monmouth, Ocean and Atlantic counties, specifically checking job sites for unregistered home improvement contractors, and we’re continuing our proactive efforts to protect homeowners.”
“We will not tolerate home improvement contractors who skirt New Jersey’s registration requirement, because we cannot allow dishonest operators to fly under the radar and victimize those who are struggling to rebuild after Superstorm Sandy,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Contractors who operate without registering are subject to criminal prosecution, and we’ve demonstrated our resolve to pursue these individuals aggressively.”
“Unscrupulous contractors were forewarned their behavior would not be tolerated. Thanks to the hard work and cooperation of our Superstorm Sandy Fraud Task Force, we are rooting out anyone looking to inflict more anguish on our residents – that will never be a welcome part of our rebuilding process in Monmouth County. Thankfully, not all contractors behave this way, but residents always must be informed and proactive before choosing who will be their partner in this rebuilding process,” said Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
“Thanks to the partnership of our State and County consumer affairs and law enforcement resources, we are ensuring that residents have reputable and registered contractors to help them put their homes and lives back together,” Monmouth County Freeholder Lillian G. Burry said. “This is a further reminder to anyone experiencing difficulty with contractors, or other recovery Sandy issues, that the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Sandy Fraud Task Force also is ready and willing to assist them.”
The state Contractors’ Registration Act, in effect since 2006, requires annual registration of those who perform home improvements. Among the requirements for annual registration is submission of proof that the applicant has a minimum of $500,000 in commercial general liability insurance coverage.
There are currently about 47,000 registered home improvement contractors in New Jersey. Before hiring a home improvement contractor, the Division advises consumers to determine whether the contractor is registered, whether the contractor has been the subject of consumer complaints and whether Consumer Affairs has taken any action against the contractor. The Division also strongly encourages consumers to get professional references from others who have used the contractor to perform similar work.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.