|Doug Sutton, CGR
Illinois’ new Home Repair Remodeling Act became effective earlier this year. The new law requires all remodelers to hand out a pamphlet called "Home Repair: Know Your Consumer Rights." Doug Sutton, CGR, a past chair of the NAHB Remodelors Council and owner of Sutton Siding & Remodeling, Springfield, Ill., talks about the new regulations.
Q: Why did the state enact this law?
The intent is to make sure that "fly by night" and/or "high pressure" sales tactics are eliminated for the consumer and do not disrupt how legitimate remodelers do business. It should be noted that the state of Illinois does not have licensing or registration.
The State Attorney General wanted this act for consumer protection since the No. 1 area of complaints to that office is home repair and remodeling. The Attorney General’s consumer fraud division came up with the original legislation and asked interested parties in the industry to review and make recommendations. Members of the Home Builders Association of Illinois (HBAI) contributed to revisions and language in the act. The HBAI legislative committee and the board of directors approved the revised act.
Q: Do remodelers support the act?
A large number of remodelers and contractors are still not aware of the act. Members of trade associations, readers of industry magazines, and Better Business Bureau members are aware though. It’s not perfect, but it’s reasonable.
Q: How do you feel about the language of the state-produced pamphlet?
The pamphlet does not specifically say to get bids but makes reference to getting "all estimates in writing." I don’t have a problem with the language because it doesn’t change the way we do business. The only area of confusion seems to be about emergency work. The pamphlet does not specifically mention it and consumers should be educated about their three-day right of recision when it comes to emergency work.
Q: Do you think this type of legislation protects consumers as well as remodelers?
Yes, I anticipate that this act will make a difference for a number of consumers. This is the first time that the Attorney General has really developed legislation that has the "teeth" to go after fraudulent contractors.
The act requires a signature from the consumer and the contractor. It’s an attempt to ensure that both parties understand the contract and its terms. For most remodelers, it’s a little more paperwork but not any more protection, unless you work without a contract, which we know is a "no- no."
Q: Is there any cost to remodelers in following the guidelines of the legislation?
There is a minor cost in providing the pamphlet, and filing and storing the signed ones. But the pamphlet can be downloaded from www.ag.state.il.us.
Q: Do you think this creates change in the way remodelers handle jobs? If so, what kind of change and is it beneficial to consumers or remodelers?
It doesn’t really change the way a well-run firm does business. But it might be a problem for those firms who rely on first-appointment sales. The only area I see that might be a problem is with the starting and estimated completion dates that must be included in the contract. This means educating consumers about how we schedule jobs, change orders, and weather restrictions. Most contractors will have a backlog of work at certain times of the year. None of us can control the weather, which can delay job completions. Change orders on an existing job can also delay the start and finish dates. Educating the consumer about the sales process and reinforcing it during the pre-construction conference will be beneficial to everyone involved. Production managers will really have to stay on top of this issue, as they should be doing anyway.
Q: How can remodelers in other states learn from this legislation? Do you think it’s coming down the pike in other areas?
It is too early to say how this legislation will work out and the benefits derived for the public and for professional remodelers. It is interesting to note that there have been a number of inquiries received concerning this legislation from the media outside of our state.
Illinois has been unique in how they handled this situation. This problem has been around for many years, and approximately 40 states have passed some form of licensing or registration law that has not solved the problem of fraudulent contractors in those states. If this legislation works as intended, it will have a positive influence on our profession. It will also influence other states to look at this type of legislation rather than passing additional restrictive legislation.