Know the Law

Obtain a written contract. Contracts for home improvement projects costing $500 or more must be written and must include the legal name and business address of the contractor as well as a start date, a completion date, a description of the work to be done, and the total price. The contract must also include the contractor’s registration number.

Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing, and that the contract states name brands or quality/grades of materials to be used.

Signed contracts may be canceled by a consumer for any reason before midnight of the third business day after you receive a copy of the contract. Put the cancellation in writing and either personally deliver it to the contractor or send it registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. A photocopy of your cancellation should also be sent via regular first-class mail.

Ensure that all applicable construction permits are obtained from the local municipality. Either the owner or a contractor acting as the owner’s agent may obtain a building permit.

If an electrician or plumber is doing the work, the municipal permit must be signed and sealed by the New Jersey licensed electrical contractor or licensed master plumber.

If the homeowner has hired an architect to draw up the plans, the licensed architect must sign off on them. Determine from the municipality what inspections are needed and when they must be performed.

Final inspections must be completed BEFORE final payment is made to the contractor. For information on inspections, see the notice printed in large type on the back of the construction permit.