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Maryland Home Improvement 101 for Consumers: Know Your Rights

Author: S. Hayes Edwards Jr. Date: 02/20/2015

Categories: Commercial and Construction Litigation, Corporate and Business Law

You’ve chosen a contractor to perform your home remodeling or renovation, you’ve settled on the plans for the work, and you’ve planned how to rearrange your life around the work. But what if all doesn’t go according to plan? If not, you might find yourself in an uncomfortable and expensive situation.

The Maryland Home Improvement Act (MHIA) established the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (MHIC) to protect home improvement consumers, and to ensure that contractors walk the line. MHIC oversees licensing of contractors and maintains a record of all contractors to ensure accountability.

Your first concerns should be the basics:  Who am I paying? Who is performing the work? What am I paying for? When will my payments be due? MHIA requires that all home improvement contracts specify this information. Failure to include that information in the contract could constitute a violation by the contractor. Many people try to avoid complicated contracts, but when you are allowing a stranger to demolish part of your home you have a lot to gain from a solid, comprehensive contract. Fortunately for you, Maryland places the burden on the contractor to ensure the contract complies with the law. However, if you don’t know the requirements for contractors you can’t take advantage of them.

Overall, the MHIA is written to protect homeowners and not contractors. It presumes that you don’t know the relevant laws and regulations.  MHIC exists to field inquiries from consumers, to investigate complaints, and even to issue payments from the Guaranty Fund to aggrieved homeowners. Although this process can be handled by an unrepresented consumer, if you encounter a problem with your home improvement contractor or the contract itself, do not hesitate to contact a Maryland attorney. The sooner a problem is identified the more likely it will be resolved efficiently.

Below are some steps to consider when engaging a contractor:

REVIEW AND QUESTION THE PROPOSED CONTRACT.

At your request, we can evaluate your contract to ensure compliance with MHIA and, more practically, to ensure it addresses anything that might be important or confusing to you as the consumer. These contracts are usually written to protect the contractor and not you.

BE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT ALL OF THE TERMS MEAN.

As part of the process, we can jointly review all of the terms – especially ones that are new or unfamiliar to you – to make sure you are comfortable with what they mean. Your ability to have that conversation can help you ask the right questions of your contractor, get your job off to a strong start, and avoid misunderstandings as the project proceeds. Most importantly, the terms that involve the amount and timing of payments must be understood by both you and the contractor to mean the exact same thing.

Finally, it is unavoidable that many home improvement projects experience disagreements, dissatisfaction and disputes. If you feel that a contractor has wronged you in some way, your contract is not being obeyed, or your contractor has accused you of some wrongdoing, please feel free to contact us. A contractor-consumer dispute is not just a question of whether the provisions were followed. We can help you protect your interests, prepare your side of the dispute as effectively as possible, and resolve the dispute in an efficient manner.

If you need to review your home improvement contract or if you are facing any dispute with a contractor over a project, you can reach me at hedwards@mcmillanmetro.com or 240-778-2329. My colleagues and I will be glad to assist you.