Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bill that would have sent homeowners to prison fails in committee

House Bill 1327 died in the Economic Matters Committee, and Marylanders should be breathing a sigh of relief. The bill said homeowners could go to prison for unknowingly hiring unlicensed home-improvement contractors.

Under current law, an unlicensed contractor has no legal recourse to enforce a contract; this is the only way to make sure there is an incentive for a contractor to be licensed. But HB 1327 would have reversed current law, and for the very first time would allow a home improvement contractor who is unlicensed to enforce a contract for home improvement services.

The bill would also make the consumer criminally liable for unknowingly entering into a contract with an unlicensed home improvement contractor. Consequently, a consumer who is taken advantage of would not only lose the relief they have been provided for the past 40 years but would also be subject to a $1,000 fine and imprisonment for 6 months.

Posing as a licensed home-improvement contractor is a common consumer scam. These con artists often do shoddy work and charge outrageous fees, preying on the most vulnerable consumers who are unaware of the requirement for licensing and of the potential reimbursement from the state home improvement fund. That's why Marceline White, MCRC's executive director, testified against the bill in the House Economic Matters Committee. Investigator John Creel of the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection also testified against this bill.

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