Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs Clears 681 Cases, Assesses $454,000 in Fines in First Year Overseeing Home Improvement Contractor Program
Caseload cut in half, actions include more than 182 registration revocations or suspensions via 378 hearings
After two hearing officers were hired in fall 2009, the Office addressed 681 dockets, and now has approximately 600 remaining. The hearing officers conducted 381 hearings, and outcomes include 166 registration revocations, 16 registration suspensions, 17 reprimands, and 240 fines totaling $454,250.
"Our Office has done a successful job working through the backlog of complaints and hearing consumer complaints against contractors," said Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "Consumers need to know there is an option to go to when they have a potentially unfair experience with a contractor, and in our first year we have proven to be responsive to homeowner concerns."
There are approximately 29,000 registered home improvement contractors in Massachusetts, and any contractor, with some limited exceptions, performing work on a one- to four-unit residential building must be registered before doing the work. Along with registering new contractors and renewing expiring registrations, the Office of Consumer Affairs also maintains a public database that allows consumers to check a contractor's registration, and whether there have been any previous complaints or other actions regarding the contractor. In 2009, consumer complaints and requests for information about contractors topped the list of reasons consumers called the Office of Consumer Affairs hotline.
Throughout its first year in overseeing home improvement contractors, the Office has undertaken a significant education effort for both contractors and consumers. For consumers, using a registered contractor affords some protections and possible compensation from the state's Guaranty Fund that would not be available if the consumer uses an unregistered contractor.
In an effort to ensure contractors are aware of the need to register and display their registration in advertising, the Office conducted two surveys this year. In February, the Office surveyed contractors at a Boston home show for registration numbers, and in May the Office reviewed 1,000 phone-book and online advertisements to see if the registration numbers were included. Also, in mailings to applicants or in renewal notifications, the Office includes a notice to contractors about the need to place registration numbers in advertising. Information is also available on the OCA website.
Of the nearly 700 cases decided since last fall, over half have been subject to hearings by the Office's two hearing officers. At those hearings, both the consumer and the contractor have the opportunity to provide testimony and evidence.
"One of the last lines of defense for consumers is a hearing, and our hearing officers have done a marvelous job making fair decisions and quickly getting through these outstanding cases," Undersecretary Anthony said.
The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, Consumer Connections, and on Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.