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Hiring an Unlicensed Contractor

 

Your house is more than an investment—it’s your home!  The place where you relax, raise a family, and keep all your prized possessions.  Naturally, you wouldn’t let just anyone work on such a space, but how do you pick the right person?  Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous “contractors” populating the home improvement field.  One thing to look for when making your choice is an MHIC licensure.  Not only does this carry a higher level of certification, but it also protects your home.  Today, we’ll address some of the common problems that arise when you use someone without the proper credentials.

Unfulfilled Contract

Picture this:  You get a quote that promises all of the renovations you wanted at a much lower price than the competitors.  So, you pick that contractor and work begins as planned after you pay part or all of the quoted fees upfront.  As the work progresses and unexpected issues arise, that budget starts becoming less and less realistic.   Until, one day, your contractor just doesn’t show up.  Any attempts to contact him/her and recover the money you’ve already spent are fruitless.  What would you do?

Well, the MHIC, or Maryland Home Improvement Commission, exists in part to prevent problems like this.  If the quote was that much lower than the others, it’s probably because the person who promised to do the work isn’t paying for the extra protection and licensure that the MHIC offers.  Then, when they run out of money (and sometimes before this), they just disappear.  Unfortunately, the MHIC can’t assist with prosecuting unlicensed contractors, so you would have to pursue legal recourse for the contractual violations on your own—provided you can actually located the perpetrator again.

Shoddy Workmanship

Another possibility is that the contractor completes the job, but when you look at the finished product, you’re dissatisfied.  Maybe the design isn’t what you originally agreed upon.  Or he/she cut corners and used cheaper materials that don’t match the rest of the house.  The worst scenarios often lie in what you can’t see.  Once it’s placed behind walls, it’s difficult to discern there’s a problem until something in your house malfunctions—potentially creating a safety issue.

Again, getting your contractor to return and fix the problem can be a challenge.  Moreover, because this person didn’t take and pass the MHIC licensure exam, they may not even know how to repair it properly.  Thus, many times, the homeowner is forced to find another, more reputable contractor, and pay more to have it corrected, then redone the right way.  In these cases, it would’ve been more economical to just hire an MHIC licensed contractor from the beginning.

Liability Matters

If your contractor doesn’t have the state-mandated license, then there’s no way to tell whether or not he/she has the required insurances either.  Because they’re not paying for the additional protection, they can offer a lower quote upfront (as we mentioned previously), but if something happens, it could end up costing you a lot more.  A construction site isn’t always the safest place, which is why many home improvement contractors purchase workman’s compensation insurance.  Those who don’t have that are more likely to look to the homeowner to pay for damages that result on the job.

Even third parties who are involved in accidents related to your home improvement project can come back and sue you when they find out they can’t claim damages against your contractor.  This could be your neighbor, the mailman, your child’s playmate, etc.  So, you’re opening yourself up to a lot of liability issues by trying to save on the budget.

Ultimately, we’ll relay the old adage when it comes to working with unlicensed contractors:  If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.  A contractor who quotes a price significantly lower than that of his/her competitors likely lacks some of the necessary credentials that are in place for your protection, as well as theirs.  So, when you’re shopping around for the right person to head your next project, pay extra attention to the “MHIC licensed” label, which can save you thousands of dollars in the long run.