A: A homeowner may choose to hire anyone he/she wishes to perform work on his\her own home, or a homeowner may choose to perform work his\herself. However, before making any decisions, please consider the following information:
If you choose to perform building construction work on your own home or if you choose to hire unlicensed, unregistered persons, you must secure a permit under what is called the homeowner exemption (see 780 CMR, Section 108.3.5 below). In doing so, you assume all responsibility for the project (i.e. ensuring the end product conforms with all pertinent codes, laws and ordinances) and you forfeit any and all rights under the CSL and HIC programs.
Technically, a person (or company) may not be in the business of building construction or home improvement contracting work unless licensed as a construction supervisor and\or registered as a home improvement contractor. However, it is recognized that many homeowners are willing and able to perform work on their own homes or have friends and\or relatives who will lend a hand (for hire). Therefore, the code allows for the homeowner exemption.
The question then remains, when do you need to hire a CSL or an HIC?
A CSL is required for any work that involves a building's structural elements. A list of work that requires a license includes, but is not be limited to:
· Constructing a new home or other building type that is less than 35,000 cubic feet in volume.
· Constructing an addition to an existing home or other building type that is less than 35,000 cubic feet in volume.
· Adding a new deck or porch to an existing home or reconstructing an existing deck or porch.
· Constructing a new garage, shed or other accessory building (to a new home or other building type) or reconstructing a garage shed or other accessory building.
· Renovating an existing home or other building type that is less than 35,000 cubic feet in volume.
Remember that the construction supervisor license is intended to demonstrate a degree of competency in respect to the provisions of the building code (which establishes criterion ensuring public safety). As identified above, a candidate must pass an examination in order to receive a license. In contrast, an examination is not required to receive registration as a home improvement contractor. The HIC registration is intended more as a consumer protection mechanism.
To make an analogy; in order to legally operate a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth, a person is required to be appropriately licensed by the Department of Motor Vehicles. The license demonstrates that the motor vehicle operator has been examined and is (at least minimally) qualified to operate the vehicle. However, the operator must also ensure that the vehicle is registered . The registration is meant to achieve a totally different goal. The registration is a traceable identifier to authorities should something go wrong during the operation of the vehicle. HIC registration is meant to achieve a similar goal.
Only certain, cosmetic work may be performed by a person or company possessing only an HIC registration (i.e. painting or other ordinary repairs). Most often, both an HIC and a CSL would be required for any significant work performed on a single to four-family owner occupied home. Also, please remember that, in order to be protected by provisions of the HIC program, the registered contractor, not the homeowner is required to secure the building permit. See 780 CMR Section 110.5 below.
108.3.5 Licensing of Construction Supervisors:
188.8.131.52 Except for those structures governed by Construction Control in 780 CMR 116.0, effective July 1, 1982, no individual shall be engaged in directly supervising persons engaged in construction, reconstruction, alteration, repair, removal or demolition involving any activity regulated by any provision of 780 CMR, unless said individual is licensed in accordance the Rules and Regulations for Licensing Construction Supervisors as set forth in 780 CMR R5.
No person shall be engaged in the supervision of the field erection of a manufactured building unless such person is licensed in accordance with 780 CMR R5: The Rules and Regulations for the Licensing of Construction Supervisors.
Exception: Any Home Owner performing work for which a building permit is required shall be exempt from the licensing provisions of 780 CMR 108.3.5; provided that if a Home Owner engages a person(s) for hire to do such work, that such Home Owner shall act as supervisor. This exception shall not apply to the field erection of a manufactured buildings constructed pursuant to 780 CMR 35 and 780 CMR R3. For the purposes of 780 CMR 108.3.5, a "Homeowner" is defined as follows: Person(s) who owns a parcel of land on which he/she resides or intends to reside, on which there is, or is intended to be, a one or two family dwelling, attached or detached structures accessory to such use and/or farm structures. A person who constructs more than one home in a two-year period shall not be considered a home owner.
110.5 By whom application is made: Application for a permit shall be made by the owner or lessee of the building or structure, or agent of either. If application is made other than by the owner, the written authorization of the owner shall accompany the application. Such written authorization shall be signed by the owner and shall include a statement of ownership and shall identify the owner's authorized agent, or shall grant permission to the lessee to apply for the permit. The full names and addresses of the owner, lessee, applicant and the responsible officers, if the owner or lessee is a corporate body, shall be stated in the application.
Note: It shall be the responsibility of the registered contractor to obtain all permits necessary for work covered by the Home Improvement Contractor Registration Law, M.G.L. c. 142A. An owner who secures his or her own permits for such shall be excluded from the guaranty fund provisions as defined in M.G.L. c. 142A. Refer to 780 CMR R6 and M.G.L. c. 142A for additional information regarding the Home Improvement Contractor Registration Program.
Q: We have an out-of-state company who will be building commercial buildings in Massachusetts. What are the requirements?
A: Please refer to the list of requirements. You may also contact the Municipal Building Department for the city or town in which you are building.
Q: How do I know if the contractor I have hired is registered as an HIC or possesses a valid CSL?
A: You can look up your contractor's registration as well as whether they are a licensed construction supervisor . You should always check a contractor's registration or licensing status before you hire them.
Q: What counts as residential contracting for purposes of an HIC registration?
A: For purposes of registration, residential contracting is defined 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, which building or portion thereof is used or designed to be used as a residence or dwelling unit, or to structures which are adjacent and accessory to such residence or building, including but not necessarily limited to: garages, sheds, cabanas, pool houses, gazebos.
Please note that the registration pertains to home improvements to existing structures; program protection does not extend to new construction.
Q: Does my contractor need an HIC to install hardwood floors?
A: A contractor will need to be registered as an HIC and have a CSL if he or she must change the structure of the floor to install the hardwood. If there is no structural change necessary, the contractor need not be registered or licensed.
Q: I am a building owner. May I employ the services of a registered professional, even though I am not required to by law?
A: Yes. A building owner may choose to employ the services of a registered professional, even if not required to by law or code.
Q: Are building owners required to hire a full-time, registered professional architect or engineer to supervise the construction of all large building projects.
A: Yes, an owner of a building project is required to employ the services of a registered architect or a registered professional engineer to supervise building projects, other than One or Two family detached dwellings, which are 35,000 cubic feet of enclosed space or greater. Please review the construction control methods defined in Section 116 of the State Building Code for more information.
Q: How do I file a complaint against a contractor?
A: You must first determine whether your contractor is registered as a Home Improvement Contractor and/or holds a Construction Supervisor's License. You can obtain that information on this website at www.mass.gov/dps. If the individual holds a registration or license, you should fill out the HIC/CSL Complaint Application located at www.mass.gov/dps and mail it to the address listed on the bottom of the application.
Q: Will I be able to recover money for damages if my DPS complaint against the contractor is successful?
A: No. The only recourse the Department may take against HIC registrants or CSL holders is to revoke or suspend their licenses or registrations and/or assess a fine. In order to recover money for damages caused by a contractor you will either have to file a civil lawsuit at your own expense, or apply for a recovery from the Guaranty Fund. The Guaranty Fund is administered by the Office of Consumer Affairs. Additional information may be found at A: Perhaps. If a construction supervisor has violated the provisions of the code in some manner, a complaint may be filed. It is important to recognize, however, that the license does not guarantee quality workmanship and complaints in this regard may not be appropriate for the Department's hearing process. If a hearing is scheduled, the license holder is required to appear before a License Review Committee or hearings officer as assigned by the Chairman of the Board of Building Regulations and Standards to address matters of the complaint. Hearings are held in accordance with State Administrative Procedure Act, G.L. c. 30A, and 801 CMR 1.02.
Q: Something has gone wrong with my home improvement project (incomplete work, contract dispute, cost overruns, improper materials, etc). What legal recourse do I have against the contractor?
A: There are several available actions.
1) Mediation Services:
The Attorney General's Office and your local consumer groups have well-trained and experienced mediators who may be able to help you and the contractor resolve disputes without any additional cost to you. For information and to see if you qualify for mediation, call the Attorney General's Consumer Complaint and Information Section at (617) 727-8400, or see the Attorney General's website at www.ago.state.ma.us. You may also contact your local consumer groups to assist you in resolving your dispute.
If you hired a registered home improvement contractor you may be able to submit your dispute to a neutral arbitrator through the State Arbitration Program. In this arbitration program, the homeowner and the contractor will present evidence and testimony to an impartial person, often referred to as a neutral or an arbitrator. The arbitrator will resolve the dispute by issuing 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 dwelling.
Your decision to seek arbitration through the Massachusetts 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. Review the following questions in order to determine whether or not you qualify for arbitration:
1) Is there a written contract for the job?
2) Will this Request for Arbitration be filed within 2 years of the contract date?
3) Was the contractor registered with the state as a Home Improvement Contractor on the date the contract was signed?
4) Was the contract for improvements, repairs, renovations, alterations, or additions to a preexisting owner-occupied residence with no more than 4 units?
5) Is the property or residence located in Massachusetts?
6) Is the property your primary residence?
If you answered "no" to any of these questions, then you do not meet the basic qualifications for the Home Improvement Contractor Arbitration Program. You may want to consult an attorney to explore other legal remedies for your claim.
If you obtained your own building permit you may be eligible for arbitration (provided you satisfy the qualifications above), but may not be eligible for payment from the Guaranty Fund.
Even if you do qualify, the Home Improvement Contractor Arbitration Program may not be the most effective way for you to pursue your claim.
The Massachusetts Home Improvement Contractor Act establishes two means by which you may recover your damages: arbitration or a traditional suit in court. You should carefully weigh the costs of pursuing your claim through arbitration versus the costs of pursuing a claim in court. For more information regarding arbitration, see the website for the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations and Standards at www.mass.gov/ocabr, or call (617)-973-8787.
- Court Action
You may pursue your claim through the court system. For claims under $2,000, small claims court is the least costly alternative. The Office of Consumer Affairs publishes a Consumer's Guide to Small Claims Court, available upon request. Larger claims may be more suitable to District or Superior Court. You should seek legal advice for all claims.
- The Guaranty Fund:
The Arbitration Program and the Guaranty Fund are managed by the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations. A comprehensive website on the program is available at: www.state.ma.us/consumer/Info/const.htm
For further information on filing a consumer complaint against a registered contractor, please consult the above website, or call the Consumer Hotline at (617)-973-8787 or toll free (888)-283-3757.
The Home Improvement Contractor Act establishes a Guaranty Fund to compensate consumers up to $10,000 for unpaid judgments against registered home improvement contractors. The Guaranty Fund is supported by a one time fee that contractors are required to pay at the time of registration.
After a consumer is paid from the Guaranty Fund, the responsible registered contractor is obligated 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.
In order to qualify for the HIC Guaranty Fund, you must file for arbitration within two years of the date on the contract. You must satisfy the requirements for arbitration (see "Arbitration" above"). You must have a legal judgment before you can take advantage of the Guaranty Fund. The arbitration decision will fulfill this requirement. In the alternative, you may seek a legal judgment through traditional legal action. In order to recover from the Guaranty Fund, the contractor or your agent must have obtained the necessary building permits. If you obtained the permits yourself, you will not qualify for recovery from the Fund.
- Action Against the Contractor's Registration
The Department may take action against a contractor's registration as a result of complaint filed with Consumer Affairs, or filed directly with the Board by a consumer. These actions may include a written reprimand, suspension, or revocation of the contractor's registration. The actions may also include administrative penalties which must be paid to the Guaranty Fund.
Please note that the Department of Public Safety only registers and licenses contractors, and the Department can only suspend, revoke or fine a Registered Home Improvement Contractor, or suspend or revoke a Construction Supervisor's License. See G.L. c. 142; 780 CMR R5. If you choose to send a complaint directly to the Board of Building Regulations, please use the following form http://www.mass.gov/dps.