Many home improvement jobs between contractors and homeowners are undertaken with a handshake or minimal documentation. In most instances, that can work just fine. But as with everything in life, serious disputes occasionally can and do occur. Contractors and homeowners should be aware that the Connecticut Home Improvement Act (“HIA”) governs such disputes and can have harsh and counter-intuitive consequences generally for the benefit of homeowners and to the detriment of contractors.
The HIA’s main provision is codified at Connecticut General Statutes section 20-429, and provides as follows:
(a)(1)(A)No home improvement contract shall be valid or enforceable against an owner unless it: (i) Is in writing, (ii) is signed by the owner and the contractor, (iii) contains the entire agreement between the owner and the contractor, (iv) contains the date of the transaction, (v) contains the name and address of the contractor and the contractor’s registration number, (vi) contains a notice of the owner’s cancellation rights in accordance with the provisions of chapter 740, (vii) contains a starting date and completion date, (viii) is entered into by a registered salesman or registered contractor, and (ix) includes a provision disclosing each corporation, limited liability company, partnership, sole proprietorship or other legal entity, which is or has been a home improvement contractor pursuant to the provisions of this chapter or a new home construction contractor pursuant to the provisions of chapter 399a, in which the owner or owners of the home improvement contractor are or have been a shareholder, member, partner, or owner during the previous five years.
(Emphasis added.) The statute further provides that a contractor can recover against a homeowner for services rendered if certain key terms (emphasized above) are put into writing but others are not:
Nothing in this section shall preclude a contractor who has complied with subparagraphs (A)(i), (ii), (vi), (vii) and (viii) of subdivision (1) of subsection (a) of this section from the recovery of payment for work performed based on the reasonable value of services which were requested by the owner, provided the court determines that it would be inequitable to deny such recovery.
The harsh reality for contractors is that absent a contract that contains all of the items emphasized above, a contractor generally cannot recover from a homeowner for services rendered, even if the services were rendered properly. The same rule would apply to services valued at $500 or $50,000. In practice, contractors that are less formal often fail to include a notice of cancellation rights per the statute, putting them at serious risk for non-payment. However, the HIA acts as a shield for homeowners, not a sword. If a homeowner has paid a contractor for services already rendered, the homeowner cannot then recover the funds paid based on the contractor’s failure to include the required provisions in the contract.