NJ Home Improvement Contractors Still Not Subject to Criminal Background Checks
"Shock and awe" is a military tactic where overwhelming power and enormous displays of force are used to paralyze the enemy’s perception of the battlefield and destroy its will to fight. The term also refers to when an unscrupulous figure takes advantage of a shock to the system, such as a weather-related crisis or natural disaster, and preys upon those who have fallen victim. A perfect example would be the shady contractors who, following the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, took the money of thousands of New Jersey homeowners who needed their homes to be lifted and rebuilt.
Five years later, victims of Sandy-related fraud are still seeking justice. The Division of Consumer Affairs has received hundreds of complaints. Only now, state legislation is being introduced that will require home improvement and home elevation contractors to undergo comprehensive criminal history background checks.
According to NJ Senator Robert Singer, the intent is “to make sure that when someone hires somebody to either lift their house or fix their house, that these people are legitimate, that they’re not criminals…wanted in other states.” That last part is especially important because shady contractors are known to travel from state to state, preying on victims of hurricanes and natural disasters. Now, if someone approaches a homeowner and offers to do some work, they must present a license and prove they are legitimate.
Even if contractors present a license, there are still further steps you can take to confirm that they are legitimate. Look them up online, whether it is a person or a company. Call the state or your municipal inspection department. The Department of Community Affairs in Trenton will tell you if there have been any complaints against that person.
Still, how are we still discussing Sandy victims after all this time? According to Singer, it is because of lax state registration laws, hence the announcement of this bill. As a matter of fact, the majority of states seem to lack criminal history background checks for home improvement contractors. A three-part investigative series titled "Crooked Contractors" was just published by the Asbury Park Press about this.
In 2004, the Contractors’ Registration Act established a mandatory registration program for contractors who are in the business of making home improvements in New Jersey. As of November. 20, 2017, more than 49,170 home contractors were registered with the state. Singer’s bill would be an addition to the Act. If passed, those same contractors will have to undergo background checks with the FBI and the state Bureaus of Identification, which is part of the New Jersey State Police. Until then, please remember that a contractor who displays a state registration certificate has not necessarily been subjected to a real criminal background check. If you have any questions regarding home improvement contractors and consumer law, contact this office.
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