WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
New Jersey is seeing an unprecedented wave of home improvement contractors from out-of-state, looking to cash in on repairing the tens of thousands of homes damaged by Sandy, according to state officials. The state's Division of Consumer Affairs is warning that failure to do some basic research could cost home owners dearly.
Erik Kanefsky, New Jersey's acting Director for Consumer Affairs, says it's essential that homeowners check to see any contractor they want to use is actually licensed in the state. Kanefsky says that registration means the builder is insured and has been subject to a criminal background check.
"Before you use someone give us a call. Go on our website. See what complaints have been filed against somebody. See if this person has a track record of not performing the services that they are being paid to do," Kanefsky said.
While Kanefsy concedes out-of-state contractors may be capable, homeowners may have no recourse against an unlicensed contractor if something goes wrong.
"At least you know that you have insurance, that home improvement contractor insurance, that you can seek some kind of redress through, that these people have a location in New Jersey and that they are registered to operate as a business in the state of New Jersey."
New Jersey maintains a database that tracks the status of 45,000 licensed contractors that do everything from electrical work to mold remediation. Under state law any job worth more than $250 merits a contract.
"In New Jersey you have to be provided a written description of the work, the individuals who are going to be supplying the work, the materials that are going to be used, and a time commencement and completion date," Kanefsy said.
In December, the state saw 1,200 new home improvement contractors apply for state licensing, more than twice the number of new applicants over the same period the year before.
Doing home improvements without a license is a fourth degree crime in the state of New Jersey that can draw both a fine and jail time. Over the years the state, in collaboration with local law enforcement, have conducted sting operations that targeted unlicensed contractors.