Spring is the season when homeowners launch the improvement and renovation projects that can add beauty to a home and improve its potential resale value in the long run. Unfortunately, scammers and fly-by-night contractors can create headaches for unsuspecting consumers.
To help consumers avoid pitfalls during spring renovation season, the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance and the Tennessee Board for Licensing Contractors remind consumers of the steps they can take today to ensure they hire a reputable contractor -- and what they should do if they discover a contractor has not lived up to his or her end of the bargain.
"With the recent approval of the federal stimulus bill, many Tennessee consumers may be planning to use their money to make improvements on their homes," said Board Executive Director Carolyn Lazenby. "Before beginning any home improvement project large or small, we encourage consumers to learn Tennessee's rules governing contractors. While the majority of contractors play by the rules and deliver quality work, there may be some who leave consumers dissatisfied and holding the bag. If consumers ever feel mistreated, they can contact our team to file a complaint."
Consumers can check the complaint and disciplinary history of a contractor by contacting the Board for Licensing Contractors by phone at (800) 544-7693 or (615) 741-8307 or emailing our team at firstname.lastname@example.org. To file a complaint, consumers should visit our website at tn.gov/commerce.
Consumers should remember that Tennessee's felony theft law covers consumers whenever a contractor takes money and fails to perform work within 90 days. Pursuant to T.C.A. 39-14-105, consumers may contact local law enforcement and file charges to prosecute the contractor for theft. More information about the law can be found here.
Before starting a home-improvement project, consumers should familiarize themselves with the following tips to help ensure the project goes smoothly.
- In Tennessee, a contractor's license is required before bidding or price negotiations when the total cost of the project is $25,000 or more.
- For projects that cost less than $25,000, check with your local government's building codes office to confirm whether a contractor needs a state license or a local license to perform home improvement, electrical, plumbing or HVAC work, as well as their permit requirements for inspections.
- Before selecting a professional, ensure they are properly licensed for the project by visiting https://verify.tn.gov.
- Get several bids and check references before committing to a contractor.
- Be wary of contractors selling repairs door-to-door, especially when they ask to receive payment upfront or offer deep discounts.
- Ask the contractor who will be performing the work: the contractor, his or her employee(s) or a subcontractor.
- Get a written contract that includes the contractor's name, address and telephone number. The contract should also include an anticipated start and completion date.
- Tennessee's Home Improvement law prohibits contractors from asking for a down payment of more than 1/3 of the total contract. If someone pressures you to pay more than 1/3 of the cost, walk away.
- Make sure the contractor is insured to cover workers' compensation, damage and general liability insurance by requesting copies of the contractor's insurance certificates showing a current effective date.
- Never pay with cash or ever pay the total charges before the work is complete.
To avoid falling victim to deceptive sales tactics, TDCI reminds consumers to look out for common red flags, such as:
- An unlicensed person going door-to-door selling their service.
- A person who uses high pressure sales tactics by offering services for a short time only, which makes consumers feel rushed and unable to research the contractors properly.
- Avoid working with someone who uses unmarked trucks or vans or refuses to set out complete and specific contract terms in writing.