NJ Undercover Sting Busts 10 Unregistered Contractors
State law enforcement officials are warning New Jerseyans to be aware of home repair scams after Hurricane Sandy following the citing of 10 unregistered home improvement contractors who were rounded up in an "Undercover House" operation conducted in partnership with the Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs.
Governor Chris Christie, Attorney General Jeff Chiesa and the State Division of Consumer Affairs are citing the 10 contractors and assessing penalties of $2,500 each.
The initiative was held prior to Hurricane Sandy, but Attorney General Chiesa says New Jerseyans should consider themselves warned and those seeking to hire a contractor should check their credentials.
"In the wake of Sandy, we're working hard to help and protect New Jersey residents on all levels," said Governor Christie. "We want to make sure that those who sustained damage from the storm don't suffer further at the hands of unscrupulous contractors."
A warning for homeowners
"New Jerseyans whose homes were damaged by Sandy should be on alert. Now is the time when fly-by-night, unregistered contractors will descend on storm-damaged areas, seeking to make a quick profit at the expense of homeowners. New Jersey has 42,000 duly registered home improvement contractors," said Chiesa. "There is no shortage of good, professional help. If you don't do your homework and hire a registered contractor with a good track record, you may spend thousands of dollars on a project, only to find yourself stuck with substandard, shoddy and unsafe work."
Those seeking to hire a contractor should contact the Division of Consumer Affairs at 800-242-5846 to see whether the contractor has a current, valid state registration; and to learn whether the contractor has been the subject of consumer complaints.
Undercover Agents Posed as Homeowners
The undercover operation took place in Mercer County in July. Investigators posed as consumers seeking to hire contractors for the renovation of a home in Titusville. The investigators booked appointments with unregistered contractors, some of whom had commercial listings on Craigslist and other websites, in "home improvement guide" publications that were placed at convenience and grocery stores and in local yellow pages.
The unregistered contractors came out to the home and spoke with undercover investigators, who posed as the home's owners, who told the contractors that the home had been empty for a few years and sustained minor damage, but could become beautiful again with the right work. The contractors examined the home and gave estimates ranging from $2,500 to $50,000 for repairs which included painting, flooring, roofing, sheet rock work and masonry.
"One of the contractors showed up without a tape measure, ruler, meter or any measuring device and without even a notebook and then gave an estimate of $50,000, apparently based on what the investigators said they could afford," said Eric Kanefsky, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. "Consumers should never hire a contractor without learning everything they can about the company's reputation and abilities and making sure they are duly registered with the state."
The following contractors received notices of violation, each including a $2,500 penalty.
Two of the companies have since applied for registration and are now actively registered and applications submitted by two more are currently pending:
- AA Construction, of Piscataway.
- Amidas Painting and Construction, LLC, of Chesterfield. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and is now actively registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey).
- First Choice Flooring, Inc., d/b/a/ Frank White Floors, of Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and its application is pending).
- Get it Done Painting, of Trenton.
- Home Code, LLC, of Highland Park. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and is now actively registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey).
- MLA Home Improvements, aka Mr. Yard & Home, of Somerville.
- Mudry Construction, LLC, of Mercerville. (This company has since applied for reinstatement of its lapsed registration, and its application is pending).
- NE Home Improvements, of Philadelphia.
- Sonny Signo & Sons Home Repair & Remodeling, of Elizabeth.
- Tara Construction, of Lawrenceville.
All 10 were cited for advertising and/or offering to perform home improvement work despite lacking State registration.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.