CONSTRUCTION LAW FOR THE LITTLE GUY

Ronald Reagan once said, “You can’t be for big government, big taxes and big bureaucracy and still be for the little guy.” Homeowners often feel overwhelmed during a construction or remodeling of their homes. This is understandable. It is your home that is involved–where you sleep, where you store your valuable treasures. No matter how small the project, the disruption of your life seems huge. So do the unforeseen costs and defects that sometimes keep popping up.

In Illinois construction and remodeling law, homeowners have certain rights. One right is to be notified in writing through a state-required brochure of their rights under the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act. The brochure is entitled “Home Repair: Know Your Consumer Rights.” That law also requires the contractor to use a written contract. Specifically, that brochure must state:

“HOME REPAIR: KNOW YOUR CONSUMER RIGHTS

As you plan for your home repair/improvement project, it is important to ask the right questions in order to protect your investment. The tips in this fact sheet should allow you to protect yourself and minimize the possibility that a misunderstanding may occur.

AVOIDING HOME REPAIR FRAUD

Please use extreme caution when confronted with the following warning signs of a potential scam:

(1) Door-to-door salespersons with no local connections who offer to do home repair work for substantially less than the market price.
(2) Solicitations for repair work from a company that lists only a telephone number or a post-office box number to contact, particularly if it is an out-of-state company.
(3) Contractors who fail to provide customer references when requested.
(4) Persons offering to inspect your home for free. Do not admit anyone into your home unless he or she can present authentic identification establishing his or her business status. When in doubt, do not hesitate to call the worker’s employer to verify his or her identity.
(5) Contractors demanding cash payment for a job or who ask you to make a check payable to a person other than the owner or company name.
(6) Offers from a contractor to drive you to the bank to withdraw funds to pay for the work.

CONTRACTS

(1) Get all estimates in writing.
(2) Do not be induced into signing a contract by high-pressure sales tactics.
(3) Never sign a contract with a blank space or one you do not fully understand. If you are taking out a loan to finance the work, do not sign the contract before your lender approves the loan.
(4) Remember, you have three business days from the time you sign your contract to cancel any contract if the sale is made at your home. The contractor cannot deprive you of this right by initiating work, selling your contract to a lender, or any other tactic.
(5) If the contractor does business under a name other than the contractor’s real name, the business must either be incorporated or registered under the Assumed Business Name Act. Check with the Secretary of State to see if the business is incorporated or with the county clerk to see if the business has registered under the Assumed Business Name Act.
(6) Homeowners should check with local and county units of government to determine if permits or inspections are required.
(7) Determine whether the contractor will guarantee his or her work and products.
(8) Determine whether the contractor has the proper insurance.
(9) Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until the work is done to your satisfaction.
(10) Remember, homeowners should know who provides supplies and labor for any work performed on your home. Suppliers and subcontractors have a right to file a lien against your property if the general contractor fails to pay them. To protect your property, request lien waivers from the general contractor.

BASIC TERMS TO BE INCLUDED IN A CONTRACT

(1) Contractor’s full name, address, and telephone number. Illinois law requires that persons selling home repair and improvement services provide their customers with notice of any change to their business name or address that comes about prior to the agreed dates for beginning or completing the work.
(2) A description of the work to be performed.
(3) Starting and estimated completion dates.
(4) Total cost of work to be performed.
(5) Schedule and method of payment, including down payment, subsequent payments, and final payment.
(6) A provision stating the grounds for termination of the contract by either party. However, the homeowner must pay the contractor for work completed. If the contractor fails to commence or complete work within the contracted time period, the homeowner may cancel and may be entitled to a refund of any down payment or other payments made towards the work, upon written demand by certified mail.
(7) A provision stating the grounds for termination of the contract if you are notified by your insurer that all or any part of the claim or contract is not a covered loss under the insurance policy. You may cancel the contract by mailing or delivering written notice to (name of contractor) at (address of contractor’s place of business) at any time prior to the earlier of midnight on the fifth business day after you have received such notice from your insurer or the thirtieth business day after receipt of a properly executed proof of loss by the insurer from the insured. If you cancel, any payments made by you under the contract will be returned to you within 10 business days following receipt by the contractor of your cancellation notice. If, however, the contractor has provided any goods or services related to a catastrophe, acknowledged and agreed to by the insured homeowner in writing to be necessary to prevent damage to the premises, the contractor is entitled to the reasonable value of such goods and services.
Homeowners should obtain a copy of the signed contract and keep it in a safe place for reference as needed.
To file a complaint against a roofing contractor, contact the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation at 312-814-6910 or file a complaint directly on its website.

IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE BEEN DEFRAUDED OR YOU HAVE QUESTIONS

If you think you have been defrauded by a contractor or have any questions, please bring it to the attention of your State’s Attorney or the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

Attorney General Toll-Free Numbers
Carbondale          (800) 243-0607
Springfield          (800) 243-0618
Chicago                 (800) 386-5438″.
(Source: P.A. 97-235, eff. 1-1-12.)

Homeowners also have the right to be told the truth about materials used in their home, extra costs, and about mistakes and shoddy construction. Untrue statements about these topics by insurers or contractors can constitute fraud or deceptive practices. Often, Illinois law allows a homeowner to recover his attorneys fees, if he has to file suit to get justice.

Illinois homeowners also have the right to deduct from final payment to a contractor the reasonable cost of completing the work and the reasonable cost of correcting any defective work. Sadly, some defects don’t become apparent until many months after you have seen the last of the contractor. That is when other Illinois legal remedies need to be examined. Use care, however, not to sign any documents waiving your rights to recover from the contractor for defective work. Such documents could have innocent looking language that appears to just approve the condition of all the work.

Also, if something doesn’t feel right, hire a home inspector to look over the home before you make the final payment. If you don’t know a home inspector, call an attorney. Most construction law attorneys know several home inspector that they could refer you to. A reputable contractor will not be insulted by this.

If a defect is noted, get any promises to repair it in writing. Be sure also to have that writing state that it is being repaired at no cost or specifying any applicable cost.

If you would like more information on this topic, or to seek help in remedying a construction law problem, do not hesitate to contact our office.

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