Jason Gewirtz just wanted new windows.
Months and over $90,000 later, a fraction of the job was complete, and his contractor had all but disappeared and wouldn’t return to see the job completed.
“He took the money, and we didn’t know what he did until we hired a lawyer about a year and a half later,” Gewirtz told Consumer Affairs Committee lawmakers. of the Assembly on Thursday. “The first thing we did was assign his checks and his bank account. We found out that right after he wrote that third check, he paid for a $35,000 Sweet 16 party for one of his daughters.
Gewirtz’s story is not unique. Lawmakers heard different versions of that same story from a series of residents Thursday as they considered a measure that would tighten state oversight of contractors.
Jody Stewart, a community organizer with the New Jersey Resource Project who is married to a retired entrepreneur, told the story of an 84-year-old neighbor from Little Egg Harbor who faced a similar fraud in the aftermath of Superstorm. Sandy.
“She hired a contractor she thought was legitimate. One of the partners was a lawyer, so who wouldn’t believe him? ” she says. “The same 84-year-old woman is still not home and will never bring her home. We still look at his house from the air with no siding, no insulation, and no windows.
The neighbor bounced from apartment to apartment after her contractor disappeared, and now the federal government is seeking to recoup its disaster recovery grants because work on her home was never completed, Stewart said.
The bill sponsored by MP Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester), who chairs the consumer affairs panel, would create new rules for contractors, along with a state board to enforce them. He authorized the committee in a unanimous vote.
Under the law, anyone providing home improvement or elevation services in New Jersey would have to obtain a license from the nine-member council, along with insurance and a compliance bond or similar guarantee. , worth $10,000 to $50,000, to demonstrate financial stability. and make customers whole if a contractor disappears.
New contractors would need to have a high school diploma or GED and complete an apprenticeship program or spend two years working under the supervision of a licensed contractor, while existing contractors would have continuing education requirements.
“The state has failed to protect homeowners who have home repairs by not having a system in place to license building contractors and ensure they have a certain level of expertise. I think this is long overdue,” Moriarty said. “It should have been done a long time ago.”
New Jersey currently requires all home repair contractors to register with the Department of Consumer Affairs, but they only need a license from the Department of Banking and Insurance if their services are funded. Those who only accept cash or credit card payments do not need a license.
Moriarty’s bill would allow contractors registered with the state for at least five years to waive a license initially, although they would have to obtain a license once their registration expires.
The president has more than once compared state oversight of home repair contracts with that of other areas, such as nail and hair salons, whose services are much cheaper but subject to regulation stricter state.
“These people have to have hours of training, they have to pass a test, and they have to get a license to paint my toenail, but if I’m going to drive a nail and build a $100,000 extension to your house, all I have to do is have a business license? This is nonsense,” he said.
The bill seems to have a smooth path to law. Although it faced some opposition from business groups at a hearing in June, amendments which reduced the level of bond required, tied it to the size of a contractor and made various technical changes seem to have largely appeased the critics.
“This bill is now a big step forward in holding contractors more accountable while raising the bar to better ensure that only qualified professionals are working in our field, professionals who will be required to continue their training as ‘they gain experience and expertise in the field,’ said Tom Bovino, president of the New Jersey Builders Association, a trade group.
Get morning headlines delivered to your inbox