Senior Assistant Attorney General James Boffetti says New Hampshire should join the 35 or so states that require a license for contractors.
Speaking on The Exchange, Boffetti said the state’s Consumer Protection Bureau spends an enormous amount of time chasing contractors who take off with deposits -- without doing any work. Most often, these involve smaller home improvement jobs -- the construction of a new deck, roofing, or painting. The elderly are particularly vulnerable.
“If there was licensing for contractors you would know for instance if they passed a background check, that they didn’t have a criminal history, that they met certain standards, that they weren’t subject to a whole array of complaints,” he said. "And at least that consumer who may not be very sophisticated would have some sense that that person has met certain standards and that if they didn’t then there license would be suspended or revoked.”
Attempts to establish a licensing board for home contractors have failed in the legislature. Paul Morin, Chairman of the N.H. Homebuilders Government Affairs Committee and owner of Tarkka Homes, says the industry seems evenly split between those who think licensing is a good idea and those who think it's unnecessary.
"The builders who want to see licensing -- they feel they’re being undercut by those who shouldn’t be in the industry, people who are not knowledgeable enough, that there are people out there who are ripping off consumers, which gives the entire industry a black eye and that the field is getting a lot more complicated than it used to be," Morin said. "Just take a look at the thickness of the code books and you’ll understand what it takes to build a proper energy envelope. It requires a lot more skill than it used to."
On the other side of the licensing argument, he said, "You have folks who say, `What really is broken here? I’ve been in this business for decades and a license program is just a way for the state to further over regulate labor.'"
As Morin and others in the industry see it, the challenge, too, is in the wide variation of enforcement. Some municipalities check frequently to make sure a contractor is compliant with building codes. But many towns do not have code enforcement officers or building inspectors to ensure that structures meet the statewide building codes.
Bob Clegg, a lobbyist who is also a partner in a business that buys and restores old homes, says licensing is not a guarantee. "There are still licensed barbers out there who give horrible haircuts who don’t clean their utensils. And there’s nothing being done about it no matter how many times you complain."
Construction lawyer and former mason Ed Philpot says consumers must be diligent. He said people who join organizations like the NH Homebuilders Association are not the problem so much as those who operate under the radar. "Any guy can with a pickup truck and a level can go out and be a contractor tomorrow."
Boffetti says in the absence of a licensing board, consumers should be diligent and can file complaints on the Attorney General’s website.