Do you need extra insurance during your renovation?

Maybe so, according to a new article from the Wall Street journal.

As a general rule, you should check your contractor has general liability, workers compensation and auto insurance. These will cover contractor injuries and damage to your property caused by the contractor. But there are still a risks to be covered.

Your homeowner policy, meanwhile, may not cover damage that occurs during construction work, such as fire, theft or mishaps, which are major sources of claims. Theft of materials, including copper pipes, from work sites is also epidemic. The fact that smoke and burglar alarms are often turned off while workers go in and out of the house doesn’t help.

The article goes on to recommend buying a builder’s risk policy or course of construction (COC) policy which usually covers damage from wind / rain, vandalism, and theft depending on the scope of your renovation or remodel.

Read more – When renovating, get covered via MyrtleBeachOnline.

Sued for bad reviews on Angie’s List – what happened? (Updated)

Back in March I wrote a post about homeowners getting sued for bad reviews on Angie’s List and have been wondering what happened … I hadn’t seen any follow up stories until reading Eric Goldman’s Technology & Marketing Law blog. Since then I’ve found more info and this post has been appropriately updated.

To recap, home improvement contractor Stephen C. Sieber ( SCS Contracting Group ) launched multi-million dollar defamation lawsuits against 2 homeowners who wrote negative reviews (with F ratings) on Angie’s List, as originally published in this Washington Post story.

So what happened? According to the recent John Kelly article, Sieber dropped the lawsuits against the home owners. The lawsuits (Sieber v. Mattera and Sieber v. Hammock ) were settled and dismissed without prejudice a month after filing meaning that they agreed to settle but without setting any precedents. Sieber could technically sue the homeowners again for the same reason. From answers.com:

A plaintiff is not subsequently barred from suing the same defendant on the same cause of action when a court grants a dismissal without prejudice of his or her case. Such a dismissal operates to terminate the case. It is not, however, an ultimate disposition of the controversy on the merits, but rather it is usually based upon procedural errors that do not substantially harm the defendant’s rights. It effectively treats the matter as if the lawsuit had never been commenced, but it does not relieve a plaintiff of the duty of complying with the statute of limitations, the time limit within which his or her action must be commenced. A dismissal without prejudice is granted in response to a notice of dismissal, stipulations, or a court order.

Meanwhile, Monica Hammock’s $83,000 civil lawsuit against Stephen Sieber for damage done during her home renovation is still ongoing.

Interestingly, it seems that Sieber has been representing himself in the proceedings as his lawyer is listed as “PRO SE”. Maybe business has been a bit slow lately? Lawyers are pretty expensive.

Sieber wasn’t going to initially sue Angie’s List (as reported in the Washington Post) but ended up doing so for “malicious interference”. He was upset with the “consumer alert” Angie’s List sent out about him and charges that it

“was used solely as a public relations ploy to gain more market exposure and revenue for Defendants, at the expense of the business and reputation of SCS Contracting Group and Stephen C. Sieber personally.”

“I’m standing up for all the service providers who this will not happen to, ever.”

You can see the full details of the lawsuit at www.angiegotsued.com.

Several Angie’s List principals were named as defendants in the suit (including Angie Hicks herself) but they were subsequently dropped. Sieber is still suing Brownstone Publishing however; Brownstone “does business as” Angie’s List. You can monitor the online court records by going to:

https://www.dccourts.gov/pa/

and searching by case number.

  • Sieber v. Mattera – Case # 2007 CA 002063 B
  • Sieber v. Hammock – Case # 2007 CA 001726 B
  • Hammock v. Sieber – Case # 2006 CA 006940 B – pending
  • Sieber v. Brownstone Publishing -Case # 2007 CA 002549 – pending

160 Home Improvement Contractors nabbed in Connecticut Spring Sting

News earlier this week from Connecticut’s Department of Consumer Protection. The DCP’s 7th sting operation netted 150 unregistered contractors. 10 other contractors were cited for illegal contracts or contract language violations.

The unregistered contractors will be notified by mail of their violations, pay $500 in fines, and have to register with the state according to the Connecticut Post. The Post article also raises some valid concerns:

That so many were caught is a sign consumers need to be wary when hiring contractors, according to consumer protection officials and business leaders. But, they added, the very regulations being violated might also be driving up the costs for legitimate businesses and opening up the opportunity for a sort of black market of home improvement services.

But the last word should go to DCP Commissioner Jerry Farrell Jr.:

“These operations also serve as a reminder to consumers that while the Department administers the Home Improvement Guaranty Fund which provides up to $15,000 to victimized consumers, the money is only available to homeowners who have used a registered contractor. That is why it is so important to verify your contractor’s registration before signing any contract or giving them any money.”

Props: The Connecticut Post.

Read the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection press release.

Pennsylvania – stronger protection from home improvement fraud is on the way

Pennsylvania has new legislation in process to establish better consumer protection for homeowners.

Bill highlights:

  • a state-wide home improvement contractor database
  • written contracts required for all jobs over $500
  • the scope and cost of work be set out in the contract and clearly understood by the customer
  • makes home-improvement fraud a criminal offense
  • with stiffer penalties for scammers who target seniors

Although receiving senate passage is promising, the bill won’t become law until approved by the House of Representatives and Governor Ed Rendell.

Pennsylvanians should also note the gotchas:

For a contract to be enforceable against a customer, it would have to be signed by the customer and dated, and disclose the approximate time frame of the work and materials to be used, as well as the specifications and description of the work. It would also have to include the total sales price.

In addition, a contract would be voided if it has a clause that releases the contractor from building code requirements or liability, or that strips the customer of legal rights.

Source: phillyburbs.com.

Interior Designers vs. General Contractors

In response to a recent post Interior Designers vs. Decorators vs. Political Commentators, Stephanie from Bungalow Insanity commented:

… interior design professionals need to do a better job of helping the public understand what it is that they “do” and how it is that they add value to a building/renovation project.

She makes a great point – I hope someone out there (like the American Society of Interior Designers) is listening.

Meanwhile the public confusion continues, as this news story about prominent Visalia, CA interior designer David E. Gonzales in hot water with the California Licensing Board illustrates. Gonzales was doing project management for the implementation of one of his designs and maintains he was only helping find subcontractors to “make things convenient for the couple”. But

… the Tulare District Attorney’s Office maintains that whatever title Gonzales went by during the Ortegas’ project, he essentially was working as a contractor, taking the couple’s money and paying subcontractors for their work and materials as well accepting a fee for doing it … Unlicensed contractors in California can face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to Tulare County Superior Court records.

Gonzales claims he didn’t know he was breaking the law and I believe him, for all the reasons above. Think about it. An interior designer is knowledgeable about “construction, local zoning and codes, experience working with architects and contractors, knowledge of construction materials”. An interior designer usually knows lots of good contractors. It seems a natural jump to coordinating the design implementation and helping clients choose and manage subcontractors. He’s been doing it for years.

Except that he’s been doing the work of a general contractor and that’s against the law without a license. It’s only because this project had quality of work issues that he came to the attention of the California Licensing Board and ended up with a misdemeanor charge for contracting without a license.

Gonzales’ story is a cautionary tale, of how easy it is to end up on the wrong side of the law … when you don’t know enough about what an Interior Designer, as well as related professions, can and cannot do.

Read the full story Designer required to be licensed.

Interior Designers vs. Decorators vs. Political Commentators

A recent opinion column by George Will is stirring up a fuss the design community. Mr. Will, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, usually does political commentary … not Home & Garden news …

But in his recent column In the new West, its interior designers vs. decorators, Will points up some, in his opinion, absurdity implicit in some of the new laws separating Interior Designers from Decorators …

In Nevada, such regulation has arrived. So in Las Vegas, where almost nothing is illegal, it is illegal — unless you are licensed, or employed by someone licensed — to move, in the role of an interior designer, any piece of furniture, such as an armoire, more than 69 inches tall. A Nevada bureaucrat says that placement of furniture is an aspect of space planning and therefore is regulated — restricted to a registered interior designer.

Placing furniture without a license? Heaven forfend. Such regulations come with government rationing of the right to practice a profession. Who benefits? Creating artificial scarcity of services raises the prices of those entitled to perform the services. The pressure for government-created scarcity is intensifying because the general public — rank amateurs — are using the Internet to purchase things and advice, bypassing designers.

The column has generated some debate in the design community, including this response from Michael Alin, the Executive Director of the American Society of Interior Designers …

If furniture is placed in such a manner that it impedes egress during an emergency or exit pathways are not appropriately marked or laid out, people will die. Should a nonqualified, noneducated person select the materials for the interior of a hospital, nursing home, school or high-rise building?

And some conservative commentary backlash.

As with anything, there are two sides to the story. I think they both have a point … the question becomes where to draw the line. When do you need the regulated professional and when do you not? If it’s a question of building materials or decisions for hospitals, nursing homes, or even public buildings, yes it’s easy to agree we want the regulated professionals: lives are on the line. But put in that context, I know what I would prefer: not just an interior designer but a designer in conjunction with a dedicated safety professional.

Let’s take the argument outside of the public domain and into the private home. If it’s a question of a designer who is involved in writing the technical or construction specifications for my home, yes I want a trained, certified, regulated professional. Hands down, no questions asked. If it’s to place furniture in my home … what on earth for?

I think where the Interior Design profession opens itself up to criticism is when it attempts to apply the regulatory brush too liberally, when it tries to regulate tasks that just need “common sense” or where there are other professionals who could provide the needed guidance to the same level or better. Who’s going block the front door with a 69 plus inch armoire for lack of an Interior Designer’s instruction? Anybody? No takers? I can see someone blocking a rarely used back door that could serve as a fire exit. But in that case, who should be called? An Interior Designer or a Fire Marshall?? I’m thinking Fire Marshall. The point is, this type of unneeded regulation does nothing to enhance the perception of the Interior Design profession.

If there is anyone to benefit from the new laws in Nevada, it’s lazy spouses. As one commenter put it on townhall.com,

Nevada, here I come. It’s the Land of Liberty. Why, every time my wife asks me to move this or that piece of furniture. I can demur, pointing out that I am not licensed to do that. Free … Free at last.

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