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New Hampshire Takes Up Regulation and Licensing to Curb Contractor Abuse

A high number of complaints against fly-by-night contractors in New Hampshire has spurred calls for regulation and conctractor licensing requirements in the “Live Free or Die” state, and the state Legislature has responded by introducing several bills this session. 

According to the Consumer Protection & Antitrust Bureau of New Hampshire, 313 complaints were lodged against contractors and remodelers in 2004 — the number one grievance lodged by consumers last year.

In response, the legislature has introduced four bills relating to home contractors — one in the Senate and three in the House.

All four bills have received at least partial support from members from both parties, the New Hampshire Attorney General, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of New Hampshire (HBRANH), the New Hampshire Building Officials Association and a former legislative clerk, Leo Callahan of Dover, who has collected the names of 30 disgruntled home owners ready to testify in favor of a license requirement.

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‘Study Bill’ Looks at the Feasibility of Licensing

New Hampshire House Bill 177 — also known as the “Study Bill” — sets forth requirements for home improvement contracts exceeding $5,000. This bill would establish a committee to study the feasibility of licensing residential building and remodeling contractors.

HBRANH Executive Director Kendall Buck said the goal of the association regarding the bill is “to have the legislative committee review several issues” including: 

  • Residential building and remodeling contractors’ licensing programs in other states
  • The introduction of a “Contract for Construction” law
  • The feasibility of licensing programs that contain a continuing education program
  • The concept of a statewide residential building code for site-built construction

If the House passes the Study Bill, a committee will also look at the feasibility of creating a reimbursement fund for bilked consumers that several states, including Massachusetts, already have. The committee is expected to report on the bill on Nov. 1. If approved, the law is not expected go into effect until 2006.

More Contractors and Inspectors Support Licensing Requirements

Support for some type of license requirement has increased among home improvement contractors and building inspectors, but some have said it could take time to convince those who believe regulation "is not the New Hampshire way."

“While the official policy of our association is against builder licensing, we are prepared to investigate developing a comprehensive program as detailed in our study bill,” said Buck. “A sense of the members who are attending membership meetings leans towards adopting a comprehensive program.

"We are adamant that any licensing program include educational, continuing education and testing requirements," Buck added. "We would hope to pattern this around the NAHB designation curriculum.”

Notice and Opportunity to Repair Legislation Also Under Consideration

Another House bill (its number is not yet available) outlines requirements that dissatisfied consumers must follow before they can file a lawsuit for defective construction against the contractor.

The bill requires home owners to notify builders of alleged construction defects prior to filing lawsuits. It would also require a timeframe to give builders an opportunity to address defect concerns. Most importantly for consumers, the bill preserves the right for home owners to sue if they are not satisfied.

“Our Consumers Notice and Opportunity to Repair bill is modeled after other bills that we feel have the elements that will suit New Hampshire and is directed as much to builders and remodelers as it is to their customers,” said Buck.

To date, approximately 24 states have adopted this type of legislation and other states are developing their own versions.

Will these bills and laws help New Hampshire consumers? According to Buck, when it comes to legislatures trying to pass laws to protect consumers, “our stance is that laws of that nature are not for the professionals in our industry who provide quality products and services."

"Consumer protection laws are aimed at the less than qualified and scrupulous individuals and companies in our industry. Unfortunately, you cannot legislate against crooks or stupidity,” Buck said.

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