Verify all contractor licenses (It’s the law)

by Dan Krell (c) 2009.

If your real estate agent says, “I have a guy to do the work…,” you might want to check if those contractors or handymen are licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC). The Maryland Real Estate Commission warns consumers that it is illegal for unlicensed contractors and handymen to do home improvements for a fee.

The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection website states that anyone who repairs, maintains, restores, or improves real property (homes) is required to be licensed by the MHIC. The MHIC regulates home improvement contractors, subcontractors and salespersons. If a handyman is altering, remodeling, or making repairs to your home- then the handyman is required to have a license too.

The MHIC issues licenses to contractors who have least two years trade experience; provide proof of financial solvency; and pass a test on the home improvement law and general business competency. Additionally, licensed contractors are also screened for serious criminal convictions and are required to make regular contributions to the Maryland Home Improvement guarantee fund.

If you selling your home, make sure that any completed repairs are performed by a contractor or handyman that is licensed by the MHIC. The Maryland Real Estate Commission and the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) recommend that you ask contractors and handymen for their MHIC license number to verify their license status and complaint history before they begin working on your home. You can verify MHIC licenses by either calling the MHIC or through their website (www.dllr.state.md.us/license/occprof/homeim.html). Additionally, it is recommended that you check with the OCP (240-777-3636) and the Better Business Bureau (202-393-8000) for any filed complaints against the contractors.

Additionally, verifying that your contractor or handyman is actively licensed prior to any home improvement will ensure that the contractor can obtain the proper permits (if required) as well as protect you from shoddy or incomplete work. The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation (DLLR) has made an effort to have permitting offices require all contractors present their licenses when applying for permits. Additionally, the MHIC investigates all consumer complaints (some complaints result in an award for monetary damages from their guarantee fund); the MHIC will also pursue and aid in the prosecution of violators of the Maryland home improvement law.

Two specific MHIC investigations of consumer complaints last year resulted in a revoked license, a fine and jail time. The first investigation (as reported by WBAL TV in Baltimore on October 21, 2008; wbaltv.com) resulted in a revoked license from a contractor who had numerous consumer complaints of shoddy work (one home owner complained that after he paid the contractor for an addition, the addition was ordered to be torn down for being unsafe). The second investigation (as reported by the DLLR on December 16, 2008) was of the deeds of an unlicensed contractor, which resulted in a $65,000 fine and thirty days in jail.

Even though you trust your real estate agent, the fact that a real estate broker was fined by the Maryland Real Estate Commission last year for allowing the use of an unlicensed contractor (to perform repairs that were listed in a contract addendum) should be motivation enough to check out any contractor before they begin to work on your home.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of March 9, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Dan Krell