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Office of Consumer Affairs: Consumers need to check status of contractors before work commences
BOSTON - May 18, 2010 - A survey of 1,000 home improvement contractor phone-book and online advertisements by the Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCA) found one in five advertisements was placed by unregistered entities. For consumers, being able to easily find and check a registration number is important as homeowners go through the process of considering a contractor. Hiring a registered contractor affords some protections and possible compensation from the state's Guaranty Fund that is not available if a consumer uses an unregistered contractor.
"The relationship between homeowners and contractors often starts with consumers searching advertisements for potential contractors," said Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "The registration number in an advertisement assures the consumer that the contractor she is considering is registered, and gives the consumer information to help research a particular contractor."As homeowners decide on a contractor for work in their home, a check should be done to make sure the selected contractor is registered. A contractor's registration information can be found on the Home Improvement Program website. Consumers can also check the complaint, arbitration and Guaranty Fund history of a contractor on the Home Improvement Program website. The OCA survey, which included a review of advertisements in phone books from around the state and a review of ads at online entities such as Craigslist, checked 1,002 ads. Unregistered contractors were advertising in 192 of the ads. Only 317 of the ads included the registration number of the contractor.
There were 398 ads where a registered contractor did not include the registration number, 94 ads displayed expired numbers and one ad displayed a revoked license number. The survey, which follows a check of materials at a February home show that found similar results, highlights the need to educate contractors about their responsibility to post registration numbers in advertisements and other marketing materials. Since taking over the state's Home Improvement Contractor program in July 2009, OCA has overseen the registration and activities of the nearly 29,000 registered contractors in the Commonwealth. The office has identified the publication of registration numbers as a significant education undertaking. Every contractor checked in the advertising review was sent a letter from OCA, detailing whether or not the contractor complied with the mandate to display the number, and encouraging those that did not display it do so in the future. In some cases, the letter and a follow-up conversation helped contractors understand their responsibilities, and many are making changes to comply with the mandate.
In mailing to applicants or in renewal notifications, the Office includes a notice to contractors about the need to place registration numbers in advertising. Information is also available on the OCA website."We are going to continue to raise awareness of this for both consumers and contractors," said Undersecretary Anthony. "We are very confident most registered contractors want to do the right thing for their customers, and we know consumers appreciate having this information available when they are researching contractors." The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly.