Friday, April 06, 2007

The Home Improvement Contractor Arbitration Program

In Massachusetts, the state runs a Home Improvement Contractor Arbitration Program that gives homeowners and contractors an alternative to filing suit when a dispute arises. This program has many advantages. For one thing, the cost of filing for arbitration is generally less expensive than filing suit. Once the application is filed, the state oversees the process, and it is usually fairly efficient. Unlike litigation, there is usually little discovery (the exchange of information) which allows the parties to control costs. The program allows for a half-day hearing, and the arbitrator can opt to make a site visit. The arbitrator is also authorized to award double or triple damages and costs under M.G.L. c. 93A.

The arbitrator cannot award attorney's fees. The arbitrator's award is appealable (unlike most arbitrations), and the parties are entitled to a new trial if the decision is appealed. All findings of fact issuing from arbitration shall be taken as prima facie evidence in any subsequent appeal. This means that the court will consider the arbitrator's findings when making a decision.

The program can only be utilized by either party if the contractor is registered and was hired to hired to perform home improvements on a 1-4 unit, owner-occupied residence. The contractor must have pulled the permit(s) as well.

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