- The Home Improvement Contractor Act
- The Home Renovation Process
- If Something Goes Wrong
- Information for Contractors Applying for a Home Improvement Contractor Registration
A Home Improvement Contractor ("HIC") is defined as any person who owns or operates a contracting business who, through himself or others, undertakes, purports to have the capacity to undertake, offers to undertake, or submits a bid for residential contracting work to a homeowner, as such work is defined in 201 CMR 18.00 and Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 142A (which are the regulations and laws pertaining to the program). By law, all home improvement contractors must be registered with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR). This can include both individuals and/or corporations.
Q2. What is "residential contracting" for purposes of an HIC registration?
A Home Improvement Contracting Registration is governed by M.G.L c. 142A. Contractors who engage in residential contracting agreements with homeowners for work on their primary residence of 4 units or less, are required to register with OCABR. Residential contracting is defined under the law as “the reconstruction, alteration, renovation, repair, modernization, conversion, improvement, removal or demolition or the construction of an addition to any pre-existing, owner-occupied, building containing at least one but not more than four dwelling units (1-4 units) which is used in whole or in part, or designed to be used as a residence or dwelling unit, or to structures which are adjacent to the residence or building, including but not necessarily limited to: garages, sheds, cabanas, pool houses and gazebos.”
Please note: new construction, buildings with more than four units, investment, vacation or secondary properties and homes not located in Massachusetts are not covered under this law. The requirements and protections of this program do not extend to construction contracting other than that defined above as residential.
|1. the Commonwealth or its political subdivisions;|
|2. any school, public or private, offering as part of a vocational education program courses and training in any aspects of home construction or home improvements;|
|3. electricians, plumbers, architects or any other persons who are required by law to attain standards of competency or experience as a prerequisite to licensure for and engaging in such trade or profession and who are acting exclusively within the scope of the profession for which they are currently licensed pursuant to such law, construction supervisors excepted;|
|4. persons dealing in the sale of goods or materials who neither arrange to perform nor perform directly or indirectly any work or labor in connection with the installation of or application of the goods or materials;|
|5. any owner personally doing residential contracting work on his/her own home;|
|6. any individual who performs construction related labor or services for a home improvement contractor or subcontractor, for wages or salary and who does not act in the capacity of a home improvement contractor or subcontractor;|
|7. any contractor or subcontractor who works on one residential contracting undertaking or project by one or more contracts where the aggregate contract price to the owner is less than $500; provided, however, that the contract is not in an amount of less than $500. for the purpose of evading 201 CMR 18.00 or M.G.L. c. 142A;|
|8. any person who engages in the business of a home improvement contractor or subcontractor on other than a full-time basis, and who has earned in gross revenues from residential contracting work, less than $5,000 in the previous 12-month period;|
|9. any person acting as a home improvement contractor or subcontractor who was enrolled as a full-time student in a secondary school or college with degree granting authority from the government of the state in which the school is located, for the immediately preceding academic semester and is also enrolled as a full-time student for the next academic semester, in the same or a similar degree granting secondary school or college provided that at least of the number of employees of the contractor or subcontractor are similarly enrolled in secondary schools or colleges and that the home improvement contractor or subcontractor does not reasonably expect to earn or does not in fact earn, in gross revenues, more than $5,000 from residential contracting work;|
|11. any contractor or subcontractor who works exclusively in any of the following home improvement areas:|
A holder of a Construction Supervisor License (CSL) is required to have passed an examination which demonstrates knowledge of the state building code. A CSL is generally required for any work that involves a building's structural elements.
A holder of an HIC registration is not required to pass an examination. The holder is required to register with the state by paying an application or renewal fee and paying a one-time fee which is deposited into the Guaranty Fund administered by the OCABR. The Guaranty Fund is a fund of last resort for eligible consumers/homeowners and was established, with the registration requirement, to provide a measure of protection for consumer homeowners who were harmed by a contractor. In the event of a dispute between the homeowner and a registered contractor, the homeowner may be eligible to apply to the Fund for up to $10,000 of their actual losses. Whether your contractor is required to have both a CSL and an HIC depends upon the scope of work of your project, the construction they perform or advertise to perform. Most construction projects will require both a licensed and registered contractor. However, if your contractor does not hold a valid CSL but the work he/she contracts to perform requires it, he/she must obtain a CSL or hire an active Construction Supervisor Licensee to supervise the project. An unofficial list of work identified as needing an HIC or a CSL can be found here: http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/hic/inf-bbrs-work-requiring-hic-csl.pdf
Homeowners should make sure that the contractor and/or all subcontractors that will be employed are appropriately licensed and registered. The municipal building official will also ask to see both the Construction Supervisor License and the HIC registration of a contractor (or contractors) at the time the building permit application is filed.
Q5. How can I check that my contractor is registered or find a registered contractor?
The OCABR maintains a current list of registered contractors. You may refer to our website www.mass.gov/homeimprovement to look-up a contractor or verify their registration status (i.e. whether it is active, expired, suspended and/or revoked) as well as view complaints filed with this Office against a contractor. Homeowners should always confirm the contractor they plan to hire is registered and properly licensed prior to hiring the contractor, signing any paperwork, making any payments, or beginning a project. In order to confirm whether the contractor is properly registered with OCABR, ask to see his/her six digit registration number and compare it to the information on our website. The registration number as well as the contractor’s/registration holder’s name and any business name provided by the contractor on any agreement/contract should match their certificate of registration information on the OCABR website. The registration should be in effect at the time the agreement is made/contract is signed.
Q6. I have been on the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation’s website to check whether a contractor is registered as a Home Improvement Contractor but my search indicated that no record of the contractor could be found. He assures me that he is registered. Why am I unable to find him?
There are a number of possible reasons you may not be able to find the contractor you are looking for:
- The contractor's Home Improvement Contracting Registration (HIC) has expired, and he/she has failed to renew their registration.
- The contractor may have a complaint on file with OCABR which has not yet been adjudicated. If there is more than one complaint pending, OCABR makes an effort to schedule an expedited hearing on the HIC registration and the individual will not be listed on our website until the matter has been resolved. It is important to remember that in these instances, the contractor may have a valid registration or license and is merely awaiting the resolution of the complaint.
- The contractor has not paid his/her registration fees.
- The contractor's Home Improvement Contracting Registration has been suspended or revoked because of a Hearing Officer's decision, following a homeowner's complaint and the Office’s enforcement hearing against the contractor.
Home Improvement Contractors are not required under the Home Improvement Contractor Act to carry insurance. However, you should ask the contractor to produce proof of insurance and ask to see their CSL, if applicable, and Registration.
Q1. Why should I hire a registered home improvement contractor?
Under M.G.L. Chapter 142A and 201 CMR 18.00, registered contractors must adhere to certain requirements regarding contracts, payments, advertising, business practices, etc. These laws and regulations provide standards throughout the industry and provide protections for homeowners from being taken advantage of by a bad contractor. If you hire an unregistered contractor and a problem arises with the contractor's work, you will not be eligible to seek Arbitration through OCABR, nor will you be eligible to apply for or seek money through the Guaranty Fund. You may however, submit a complaint to the OCABR against any registered or unregistered contractor for violations of M.G.L. Chapter 142A.
Building Departments are required to issue building permits upon application and approval. The application is submitted with accompanying construction documents for review prior to performing construction in order to ensure that the project is completed in compliance with the state building code and related standards, and is safe to occupy upon completion. Upon satisfactory review, a building permit card is issued to the applicant by the local building official. The permit card must be posted at the job site until completion.
Legally, either a homeowner or their contractor may apply for a permit. When a contractor applies for the permit, he/she needs to provide with the application, written authorization from the owner stating the homeowner owns the property, has hired the contractor to perform work, and has granted permission to the contractor to apply for the permit.
It is important to note that under the Home Improvement Contractor Act (M.G.L. c.142A) it is the responsibility of the registered HIC to obtain all the necessary permits. While a homeowner may legally obtain his/her own permits, be aware that if you, the homeowner, does obtain your own permit and a problem should arise, you will not be eligible to apply to or receive payment from the Guaranty Fund, even if you used a registered contractor. You may, however, be eligible for arbitration (provided you satisfy the qualifications). If your contractor asks you to obtain your own permit, or refuses to obtain the permit, you may wish to reconsider using that contractor's services.
Yes, after all the necessary permits are acquired, the contractor is required under the state Building Code to schedule inspections with the municipal inspector as the job progresses.
For example, if you were to construct a deck attached to your home, the contractor must call for inspections: at the placement of the footings; when the structural frame is completed; and possibly at other points of construction as determined by the municipal inspector. Larger projects, such as the addition of a family room or bedroom, would require more points of inspection. Upon final inspection, a certification of occupancy may be issued.
The Home Improvement Contractor Act requires that home improvement contracts over $1,000 be in writing. If contractors violate this provision, their registration may be suspended or revoked, and they can be fined or face criminal prosecution. A sample contract can be found here.
Q6.Can the contractor ask for more than a 1/3 deposit in advance of when work is to begin?
Yes, but only when the homeowner has requested special- ordered or custom-made materials that may require monies in excess of a one-third payment. The contract should identify the special conditions and indicate that the owner agreed to the increased deposit and the amount.
First, try to resolve the issue with the contractor directly. If that doesn’t work, you can request Mediation. This allows both parties to reach a mutually agreeable resolution with the help of a facilitator. Mediation is voluntary, requiring both parties' consent. You may apply for mediation through your Local Consumer group, which is affiliated with the Attorney General's Office. For information and to see if you qualify for mediation, call the Attorney General's Consumer Advocacy & Response Division at (617) 727-8400, or visit the Attorney General's website at http://www.mass.gov/ago/consumer-resources/.
If the effort toward resolution is unsuccessful, a homeowner may attempt to recover damages through a traditional suit in court. You should seek legal advice for all claims.
If your contractor is registered, you may also be eligible to apply to the Arbitration Program administered by the OCABR. In this arbitration program, the homeowner and the contractor present evidence and testimony to an impartial arbitrator. The arbitrator will issue a legally binding decision. By law, a registered Home Improvement Contractor automatically consents to arbitration by entering into contracts with homeowners for residential contracting on a 1-4 unit, owner occupied primary residence.
Your decision to seek arbitration through the Home Improvement Contractor Arbitration Program should be based on whether you qualify for arbitration, whether arbitration is an effective method of pursuing your claim, and whether you objectively have sufficient evidence to support your case.
Homeowners should carefully weigh the costs of pursuing a claim through arbitration versus the costs of pursuing a claim in court.
Homeowners should also file a complaint with the Office against the contractor, using theHIC Complaint Form, even if the contractor is not registered. Such complaint will not result in a monetary award for the homeowner, but it may result in disciplinary action being taken against the contractor’s registration after an enforcement hearing. The OCABR further recommends that you contact an attorney with further questions relative to the legal implications of hiring another contractor to complete the job.
Homeowners who use unregistered contractors are ineligible for most of the protections provided by the HIC Act, preventing them from participating in the arbitration program or applying to the Guaranty Fund. They may, however, file a complaint with the Office. Homeowners seeking any monetary recourse against an unregistered contractor can only do so through the court by filing a civil complaint against the contractor. The homeowner may also, simultaneously file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.
The Home Improvement Contractor Act establishes a Guaranty Fund within the OCABR to compensate owners up to $10,000 of their actual losses incurred as a result of a registered contractor or sub-contractor violating any portion of the Home Improvement Contractor Act. If you, the homeowner, win your case in arbitration or in court and the contractor fails to pay the award or judgment, you may apply to the Home Improvement Contractor Guaranty Fund. There are specific eligibility requirements for this process.
In order to qualify for the HIC Guaranty Fund, a homeowner must file for arbitration within two years of the date of the contract and satisfy the eligibility requirements for arbitration.
For further information on filing for the Arbitration Program and the Guaranty Fund, please refer to our website (http://www.mass.gov/homeimprovement ) or call the Consumer Hotline at (617)-973-8787 or toll free (888)-283-3757.
The Guaranty Fund is funded through a one-time fee that contractors are required to pay at the time of their new registration.
After a consumer is paid from the Guaranty Fund, the responsible registered contractor is obligated by law to reimburse the Fund with interest within 30 days. Failure to repay the Fund may result in administrative fines, revocation of the contractor's registration, and in extreme cases, criminal prosecution, as well as other debt collection.
Q5. How do I file a complaint against a registered or unregistered Home Improvement Contractor ("HIC")?
To file a complaint against a registered or unregistered Home Improvement Contractor, complete the HIC Complaint Application Form. The Complaint Application Form should include supporting documentation, including a narrative, photographs with descriptions of the images (limited to 5 photographs per complaint), copy of the contract, copies of checks, and any other relevant documents. Please limit the total number of pages submitted to 25. All documents including the application, photographs and supporting material must be submitted with the Complaint Application Form to:
Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation
Program Coordinator: HIC Complaint Program
10 Park Plaza, Suite 5170
Boston, MA 02116
Complaints are reviewed for violations of the Home Improvement Contractor Act. If violations are identified, the complaint is processed and scheduled for a hearing before a Hearing Officer. The complainant will receive a written acknowledgement of the complaint or an email or letter indicating that the complaint was incomplete and requesting any required, missing documents. The contractor will receive written notification that a complaint has been filed along with a copy of the complaint and the supporting documentation. He or she will have 30 days to provide a written response to the complaint. Likewise, the municipal building official in the city or town in which the work was performed will receive notification of the complaint. Once the signed complaint is received with the proper supporting documents, the OCABR will schedule a hearing on the complaint.
Homeowners are required to submit the following documents with their signed complaint form:
- A brief narrative detailing the allegations against the contractor under M.G.L. c. 142A
- Page two of the complaint application with the alleged violations circled by the complainant
- Copies of checks paid to your contractor
- Photographs relevant to your complaint (up to 5)
- Copy of contract(s) between you and the contractor
- A copy of the building application (you will find at your local building department) is also suggested.
Your complaint will not be processed if you fail to provide a complete and signed complaint form and the above listed documentation.
The OCABR generally schedules hearings 40-60 days from the date the complete complaint was received. The Respondent contractor is provided 30 days to respond to the complaint. The homeowner should inform the OCABR of any change in their mailing address, so that they will receive any correspondence and hearing notice.
The submission of a complaint form will not result in an enforcement hearing if:
- the complaint form was submitted more than three years after the contract for home improvements was signed by the homeowner; or
- absent a signed contract, the earlier of the date of the first payment to the contractor; or the date work commenced on the project; or
- the complaint form fails to state or allege a violation of M.G.L c. 142A or 201 CMR 18.00 was committed.
Due to the volume of complaints received by OCABR, the Hearing Officer will only reschedule a hearing in extenuating circumstances, and only after a written request is submitted at least 10 days or more before the scheduled hearing date. All requests for continuances must be made in writing and sent to the attention of the Program Coordinator, HIC Complaint Program, and state the basis for the request. The request must be copied to the opposing party. The Hearing Officer will make a written determination on the request which will be sent to both the homeowner and contractor.
All HIC complaints filed with the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation are reviewed for jurisdiction and possible violations of M.G.L, c. 142A. If OCABR determines that it has no jurisdiction over the complaint, the complaint is dismissed and written notification is sent to the homeowner and contractor.
If OCABR determines that it has jurisdiction over the matter, potential violations are identified, and no further additional information is required to process the complaint, the complainant/homeowner is notified that the complaint has been received. The respondent/contractor is also notified of the complaint and a 30-day period within which he/she may file an answer to the complaint. Any ex parte communication (communication between the Hearing Officer and the complainant/homeowner or contractor/respondent) is strictly prohibited. All inquiries relative to a pending case, including requests to continue, withdraw or dismiss the case, shall be in writing, copied to the opposing party, and sent to the Program Coordinator to be given to the Hearing Officer for review and written response.
Once a hearing is scheduled, all parties shall be notified in writing with a Notice of Hearing. Due to the volume of complaints received, hearings are not immediately scheduled upon receipt of the complaint and, in general, may be scheduled 40-60 days from the date the complaint is received to allow evidence to be submitted and the contractor to respond.
In most, but not all, cases, the complainant/homeowner must attend the hearing for the hearing to proceed. The complainant/homeowner is invited to attend the hearing as OCABR’s witness only. The contractor/respondent is invited to attend as a party to the case. Contractors may represent themselves or choose to be represented by an attorney. Both the complainant(s)/homeowner(s) and contractor/respondent will be given the opportunity to provide testimony on the facts, as included, in the complaint and answer questions posed by the Hearing Officer. These hearings will generally last no more than one and one half (1½) hours, depending on the complexity of the case. The Hearing Officer will take all testimony into consideration, and will issue a written decision within 30 business days following the hearing, which may include sanctions against the contractor/respondent. The Hearing Officer will not issue a decision on the day of the hearing. The contractor/respondent, as a party, may appeal the decision, while a complainant/homeowner, as a witness only, cannot.
Contractors can register or renew a registration online. Click here to register online: https://hic.oca.state.ma.us/HIC/Account/Register. Paper applications can also be downloaded from our website here: http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/hic/hic-registration-application.pdf
Be sure the information you are providing is current. It is the contractor's obligation to notify the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation whenever there are changes to the information provided.
Q2. I have a Construction Supervisor's License (CSL); do I need a Home Improvement registration?
Probably. Most construction projects will require both a licensed and registered contractor. A contractor possessing only a home improvement registration may perform only projects that would typically be considered ordinary repairs to a property (such as exterior painting, wallpapering, repairing existing decking and similar jobs). Larger projects, such as building a deck or an addition to an existing home or any project that includes structural work, such as a kitchen renovation, (to an existing single to four family, owner occupied home) will require both a license and registration. However, the license and registration may not necessarily be possessed by the same person. For example, a registered contractor could subcontract larger projects to another individual andor company as long as that individual or company possesses both a license and registration to perform the work. However, the contractor who signed the contract with the homeowner, must have an HIC registration.
If your business activity is not listed among the exemptions and you or your business is typically involved in performing home improvement work to one to four family, owner-occupied homes, it is likely that you will need to obtain and possess a current Home Improvement Contractor Registration.
The HIC application fee is $150. Further, a payment to the Guaranty Fund is also required based upon the size of your company as follows:
Zero to three (3) employees…………$100.00
Four (4) to ten (10) employees………$200.00
Eleven (11) to thirty (30) employees $300.00
More than thirty (30) employees……$500.00
You may apply for a HIC Registration online at the following link: http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/consumer-rights-and-resources/home-improvement-contract/hic-online-renewal/.
Walk-service for HIC registrations is available. You may also pay by money order or bank checks made payable to the “Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” and mail with your HIC application.
If you are a corporation you must submit documentation evidencing that your business is registered with the Secretary of State's Office. If you are doing business under a d/b/a (also referred to as a fictitious name) you must provide a copy of your D/B/A (Doing Business As) certificate from your local City or Town Clerk's Office. Failure to submit this documentation will result in the denial or delay of your registration.
Q5. How long does it take to process an HIC registration?
Providing you have provided all the proper papers and the appropriate fees, you should receive your HIC registration within 2 to 7 days.
The OCABR provides offers a sample contract for a contractor to follow. Copies can be found here: http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/docs/sampcont.pdf
PLEASE READ CAREFULLY TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE FOLLOWING THE LAW
1. Operating without a certificate of registration issued by the administrator;
2. Abandoning or failing to perform, without justification, any contract or project engaged in or undertaken by a registered contractor or subcontractor, or deviating from or disregarding plans or specifications in any material respect without the consent of the owner;
3. Failing to credit to the owner any payment they have made to the contractor or his salesperson in connection with a residential contracting transaction;
4. Making any material misrepresentation in the procurement of a contract by making any false promise of a character likely to influence, persuade or induce the procurement of a contract;
5. Knowingly contracting beyond the scope of the registration as a contractor or subcontractor;
6. Acting directly, regardless of the receipt or the expectation of receipt of compensation or gain from the mortgage lender, in connection with a residential contracting transaction by preparing, offering, or negotiating or attempting to or agreeing to prepare, arrange, offer or negotiate a mortgage loan on behalf of a mortgage lender;
7. Acting as a mortgage broker or agent for any mortgage lender;
8. Publishing, directly or indirectly, any advertisement relating to home construction or home improvements which does not contain the contractor's or subcontractor's certificate of registration number or which does contain an assertion, representation, or statement of fact which is false, deceptive, or misleading;
9. Advertising in any manner that a registrant is registered under this chapter unless the advertisement includes an accurate reference to the contractor's or subcontractor's certificate of registration;
10. Violations of the building laws of the commonwealth or of any political subdivision thereof;
11. Misrepresenting a material fact by an applicant in obtaining a certificate of registration;
12. Failing to notify the administrator of any change of trade name or address as required by Section 13;
13. Conducting a residential contracting business in any name other than the one in which contractor or subcontractor is registered;
14. Failing to pay for materials or services rendered in connection with his operating as a contractor or subcontractor where he has received sufficient funds as payment for the particular construction work, project or operation for which the services or materials were rendered or purchased;
15. Failing to comply with any order, demand or requirement lawfully made by the administrator or fund administrator under and within the authority of this chapter;
16. Demanding or receiving payment in violation of clause (6) of paragraph (a) of section two which states: "a time schedule of payments to be made under said contract and the amount of each payment stated in dollars, including all finance charges. Any deposit required under the contract to be paid in advance of the commencement of work under said contract shall not exceed the greater of one-third of the total contract price or the actual cost of any materials or equipment of a special order or custom made nature, which must be ordered in advance of the commencement of work, in order to assure that the project will proceed on schedule. No final payment shall be demanded until the contract is completed to the satisfaction of the parties thereto;
17. Violating any other provision of M.G.L. Chapter 142A.
The Office of Consumer Affairs notifies HIC registrants whenever a complaint is filed against them by a homeowner. Enclosed with the notification you should have received a copy of the HIC Complaint Application Form completed and signed by the homeowner, as well as any documentation provided by the homeowner which claims to support the complaint. You have 30 days in which you may respond to the complaint. All responses should be in writing to OCABR.
Once you are notified of the complaint and the complaint has been reviewed by the HIC Program Coordinator or a Hearing Officer to confirm OCABR's jurisdiction, a hearing will be scheduled before a Hearing Officer. Due to the volume of complaints received by the OCABR, the Hearing Officer will only reschedule a hearing in extenuating circumstances and only after a written request is submitted and received at least 10 days before the scheduled hearing date. From this point forward, any and all communication must be directed to the Program Coordinator and a copy of the communication must be forwarded to the homeowner making the complaint at the same time the communication is sent to the Program Coordinator. The homeowner owes you the same obligation in communication with OCABR.
The hearings generally last for one and one-half (1 ½) hours and are held in Boston. During the hearing, both the homeowner/witness making the complaint and the contractor/respondent will be given an opportunity to present their evidence and testimony. The contractor may, but is not required, to obtain an attorney for representation during the hearing. Following the hearing, the Hearing Officer will make a determination of what, if any, violations occurred and what sanctions are appropriate. Possible sanctions may include a reprimand, suspension or revocation of the contractor’s registration, fines, or any combination thereof. The Hearing Officer generally issues a decision within 30 business days. Contractors aggrieved by the decision may appeal the Hearing Officer's decision to a court of competent jurisdiction.
If a registration is suspended by a Hearing Officer, it shall remain suspended for the term of suspension and until such time as the registrant formally requests in writing that it be reinstated. The registrant must also demonstrate that they have complied with all conditions imposed on them during the term of their suspension and that all fines assessed to the contractor have been paid in full. The OCABR reserves the right to deny any application for registration where the applicant has failed to meet or has violated any of the requirements for residential contractors under M.G.L. c. 142A.