What are My Rights in Massachusetts if My Contractor Abandoned Our Renovation Project?
Posted by Alan Fanger
Your rights as a homeowner against a contractor depend on whether the contractor was registered with the state as a Home Improvement Contractor (go to http://services.oca.state.ma.us/hic/licenseelist.aspx to determine whether the contractor is registered). If the contractor is in fact registered, you have two very important rights:
1. You are automatically eligible to have your dispute submitted to arbitration through the Mass. Executive Office of Consumer Affairs. The arbitration is not free of charge but the arbitrator’s rates are much lower than in normal arbitration (about $100 per hour per party). Arbitration is informal and much faster than having your case in court.
2. You are automatically entitled to apply to the Home Improvement Contractor Guaranty Fund for up to $10,000 in relief in the event that you obtain a judgment or arbitration award and the contractor is found to be uncollectible or bankrupt.
The home improvement contractor law is very favorable to homeowners, and makes violations of any number of its provisions also violations of Chapter 93A, the Consumer Protection Act (which gives consumers the right to up to three times damages and attorney’s fees). Some of these violations include the failure to register as a contractor, failure to include a payment schedule in a contract, failure to include in the contract a date by which the work will be substantially completed, failure to complete the work in a timely manner, and failure to adhere to plans and specifications in the contract. A claim for violation of Ch. 93A is heard outside of arbitration and is usually best brought in court following a favorable award in state-sponsored arbitration.
If your contractor was not registered, that in and of itself forms the basis of a Chapter 93A claim. However, you would have to prove that the work was in some way defective. You would not be eligible for arbitration or the Guaranty Fund.
Contractors can often make themselves appear to be in financial difficulty, so it is important to consult with an attorney to determine whether you may be able to attach assets of the contractor at the beginning of any dispute.