Tips for avoiding shoddy repair work

October 25, 1997


Staff Writer

To protect their homes and wallets, homeowners need to take some simple steps before hiring a contractor.

Homeowners who hire contractors that do shoddy work, damage property or don't do the job can receive up to $10,000 in compensation from the state of Maryland if the contractor has a state license, said Marco Merrick, spokesman for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

It is illegal to do home improvements without a license, Merrick said.

Homeowners should ask for a contractor's license number and call the Maryland Home Improvement Commission at 1-410-333-6309 to ensure the license is current and check the contractor's complaint record, he said.

"This is your home. This is probably the biggest investment you make," Merrick said.

In addition to checking with the commission, get an estimate and call the contractor's references, he said. It is not uncommon for unscrupulous contractors to use bogus phone numbers and addresses, Merrick said.


"These home improvement sharks prey on old people," Merrick said.

They can scam people by making them believe they have work that needs to be done, he said.

Never hire a contractor without a contract and don't pay a cent before the contract is signed. Clients only have to pay a third of the contract price as a down payment, he said.

If a problem comes up with the contractor, the commission can mediate disputes, Merrick said.

During the 1996-1997 fiscal year, the commission received 3,140 complaints, 842 of which were about unlicensed contractors, according to the commission.

That year $563,117 was spent on client compensations from the guarantee fund and $312,360 in civil penalties was assessed to contractors, according to the commission.

Contractors must repay the state for compensating their clients, said Georgia Duffee, the commission's executive director.

During 1996-1997, $202,038 was repaid to the guarantee fund by contractors and $68,280 was paid in penalties, according to the commission.

When contractors fail to pay civil penalties or repay compensations, the bill is turned over to the state central collection unit, which can intercept income tax refunds, Duffee said.

The failure to pay can show up on credit reports and can lead to liens on a contractor's home if the matter is taken to court, she said.

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