It's always sad to hear about a homeowner who has gotten fleeced by a disreputable contractor -- and it happens all too frequently, usually because the contractor wasn't properly licensed and insured, but presented an estimate and scope of work that seemed almost too good to be true.
I've written over the past several weeks about how to ask the tough questions, so I won't rehash that conversation in this week's post. The horror stories of home remodeling projects gone wrong should serve as a cautionary tale to thoroughly vet any contractor before any work gets underway. The good news is that consumers have protection under the law, thanks to licensing and regulatory bodies that oversee construction and home improvement.
The Maryland Home Improvement Commission licenses and regulates home improvement contractors, salespeople, and subcontractors. It gives you, as a homeowner, legal recourse in the unlikely event that a contractual relationship sours and compensates homeowners for monetary losses due to shoddy workmanship or failure to complete work.
So why is it so important to only hire properly licensed and insured contractors?
Legality: It is a crime to act as a home improvement contractor or salesperson in the State of Maryland without an MHIC license. Hiring an contractor that doesn't hold a current MHIC license is very risky to you and your property. If anything goes wrong, recovering monetary losses and stolen property will be difficult, if not impossible. Home improvement contracts are required to display the name, address and MHIC license number prominently. If that license number isn't displayed, don't sign the contract.
The Guaranty Fund: Homeowners are protected under the law and reimbursed if a complaint is filed and deemed worthy, but it only applies to licensed contractors. Under the Guaranty Fund of the MHIC, the maximum amount awarded to claimants are monies paid directly to the contractor, up to $20, 000.
Standards and Practices: As a consumer, you can influence change with the people that you hire. Unlicensed, fly-by-night contractors will continue to exist as long as homeowners continue to hire them. I proudly display all my professional licenses, affiliations and certifications. Home remodeling and construction are skilled trades. Supporting only licensed contractors means you will be satisfied with the work completed, and you're helping to shape best practices and professional standards in this industry.