Sunday, March 25, 2007

Your Neighborhood Contractor

Today I heard about a contractor who had been hired by various neighbors. The contractor had abandoned one job while continuing to work at the other. A couple of weeks ago I met a homeowner who hired a contractor because many of the neighbors were happy with him. Now he says he wished that he had asked that contractor the right questions.

So, what are the right questions? Here are ten questions to ask your contractor, even if he or she comes highly recommended:

1. Have you ever done this particular type of work before?

2. Can you give me references of homeowners for whom you have done this kind of work?

3. What is the largest job you have ever handled?

4. How many jobs do you work on at one time?

5. If I accept your proposal, how many jobs will you be working on while you are doing my job?

6. How many people are in your crew?

7. How often will you personally be at the job site?

8. Who will be in charge when you are not at the job site, and will he/she have the authority to make decisions?

9. Will you give me your cell phone number or a time when you will be reachable during the week?

10. Are your subcontractors readily available for work on my job, or will there be delays because they are overbooked?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Guaranty Fund and Bankruptcy

A colleague recently sent me the following information about the Guaranty Fund:

"A homeowner who is precluded by the Bankruptcy Court from pursuing legal action against the contractor may still be eligible for compensation from the Guaranty Fund.The homeowner can file a Request for Special Access to the Guaranty Fund. To receive this application, call the Office of Consumer Affairs at 888-283-3757. The application must be submitted to the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation within two years and six months of the contract date. Special Access to the Fund only applies if the contractor's debts have been discharged and the bankruptcy case is closed."

However, this option is no longer available. Even if the contractor files for bankruptcy, the consumer must obtain a judgment in order to collect from the Guaranty Fund. I just filed a case against a contractor and he filed for bankruptcy. As a result, I have to file a motion with the bankruptcy court in order to continue with the case against the contractor and obtain the judgment.

It is unfortunate that my client has to spend the funds to obtain the judgment, but that is currently what is required. It is still worth it for the client to obtain the $10,000.00 from the Guaranty Fund.

Please keep in mind that I am not a bankruptcy attorney, and I am not able to give advice regarding bankruptcy law.

Friday, March 16, 2007

OSHA and the Home Improvement Contractor

A colleague, Jerry Solomon, offers the following advice:

All you have to do is look around you, in the city and the suburbs, to see that many home contractors have little concern for following OSHA rules to protect their employees. You see Mickey Mouse scaffolds, employees working at heights without fall protection, workers riding in the backs of pickups or on backhoes, aluminum ladders near electrical lines, excavations with no cave-in protection. You can’t see it, but it is probable also that many workers on home-building or renovation projects are wrongly treated as if they are independent contractors. The prudent contractor will begin to get his act together.

Contrary to some beliefs and wishes, residential construction is covered by OSHA. Every contractor with an employee is covered. If you are incorporated, you have an employee, even if it is just yourself.

Among the highest hazard industries that OSHA tracks are residential building, and landscaping. So OSHA has targeted residential construction for special attention. It is their belief that workers in residential construction deserve a safe workplace. Every OSHA office in Massachusetts has a Local Emphasis Program for Residential Construction.

Here is the scary part. They are trying to enlist local building inspectors to be on the lookout for builders who don’t follow OSHA’s rules. OSHA is training them. Don’t be surprised if a local inspector refuses to inspect your framing or whatever if he has to climb more than 4 stairs without a handrail.

Learn the rules. An OSHA citation and fine could eat up all of your profits.

Jerry Solomon
Law office of Jerrold Solomon

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Construction and Property Damage

I recently acquired new clients who sustained severe property damage to their home. The insurance companies are denying their claims and they are quite frustrated in trying to get reimbursed for their damages. The main problem in proving their damages is that they are having trouble proving that the damages that occurred as a result of the other parties' actions. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the clients wish that they had taken pictures and documented the condition of the house before the work started.

This made me realize that it is in a homeowner's and the contractor's best interest for the parties to document the condition of the house before work begins. In landlord-tenant law, the landlord is required to provide the tenant with a "Statement of Present Condition" in order to collect on the security deposit if there are damages at the end of the tenancy. If a homeowner is going to make claims against a contractor, it would be worthwhile to establish the condition of the premises at the beginning, so it will be easier to prove new damages later on. The homeowner should therefore take some pictures, and do a walk through with the contractor and note down problematic areas before the work begins That way, the contractor will be protected from unfair claims as well.