The best way to protect yourself when seeking a home improvement contractor is to do some investigative work of your own prior to entering into the contract. Check to see if the contractor has a permanent address in your area. Request references from the contractor for prior work and check those references. Contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 814/871-4371 to determine if the Bureau has taken legal action against the contractor. You also may want to check with the local Builders Association to see if a contractor is a member. Finally, to substantiate a fair price, you should obtain multiple bids for the job.
Many consumers are under the false impression that home improvement contractors are subject to licensing requirements throughout Pennsylvania. While there is no state-wide licensing requirement for home improvement contractors, the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (also known as HICPA) requires all home improvement contractors – with limited exceptions - to register with the Attorney General's office and to display their registration number on all advertising and contracts. Contracts are required for home improvements of $500 or more and must be signed by the consumer and the contractor before work begins. The contract must state the exact work to be done and include a starting and completion date for the project along with the total cost of the project. HICPA only allows contractors to request or accept a 1/3 deposit, plus the cost of "special order materials." To determine if a contractor is registered, consumers may call the HICPA Information Helpline at 1-888-520-6680 or may search for a contractor's listing at www.attorneygeneral.gov by clicking on the "Consumers" tab and going to "Consumer Home Improvement Information."
Further, there is no state-wide building code in place. However, some municipalities do have building codes and licensing requirements. For example, the City of Erie currently has a building code and licenses plumbers and electricians. Before entering into a home improvement contract, the Bureau of Consumer Protection suggests you contact your local municipality and find out if a licensing requirement exists, and if so, is your contractor licensed.
As with all consumer transactions, you should use caution if the contractor is a door-to-door salesman. Be wary of high pressure sales tactics or contractors offering a bargain rate because the equipment is already in the neighborhood. Also, be careful of salesman who quickly adjust their price downward in order to close a deal. If a contract is substantially negotiated in the home, the contractor is required to supply you with a notice of your right to cancel. As with all contracts negotiated in the home, you have three days from the date of signing, or the date on which you were given the notice of cancellation, to cancel the contract.
Upon completion of the contracted job, inspect the work thoroughly with the contractor. You should point out any defects immediately. Do not sign any completion certificates until you are sure the work has been done to your satisfaction. Should problems arise, contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at 814/871-4371 to obtain a complaint form so that you can file a written consumer complaint. You can also download a complaint form by visiting the Attorney General's website at www.attorneygeneral.gov and clicking on the "Complaints" tab for a menu of complaints. The Bureau will attempt to mediate a resolution on your behalf. 8/11
If you need an attorney and don't have one, the Lawyer Referral and Information Service can help.