N.J. a step closer to requiring licenses for home improvement contractors to weed out bad actors

A proposed law that would require new contractors to complete training and pass an exam before they could get a license to do home improvement or home elevation work in New Jersey is a step closer to landing on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

The bill (A2138) was recently passed by the state Assembly after getting the approval of two Assembly committees.

Companion legislation in the state Senate (S1890) has not yet been scheduled for a hearing in the chamber’s Budget and Appropriations Committee, where it needs approval before a full Senate vote. It was already passed by the Senate Commerce Committee in December.

A spokesman for state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, who serves as chair of the budget committee, would only say the bill is “being reviewed.”

“There have been a significant number of bills referred to the Budget Committee in recent months,” spokesman Richard McGrath said. “This measure is being reviewed.”

If the Senate ultimately passes the measure, Murphy would then have to sign it for it to become law.

In addition to setting license requirements, the bill would create a board that would regulate the home improvement contractor profession.

Current state law does not require contractors to get a license. They only have to register with the state and buy a liability insurance policy, far less than what’s required of in many other professions. For example, hair stylists need 1,200 hours of instruction and to pass a state exam to get a license. Manicurists need 300 hours of instruction and to pass an exam to be licensed.

The bill was introduced in response to an NJ Advance Media investigation, “Hire at your own risk,” which spotlighted how poorly the current law protects consumers, bill sponsors said.

State Sen. Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, primary sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, called the measure “a common sense bill.”

“It costs $20 to get a manicure? A haircut, $20 or $30? With a contractor, a homeowner is putting out thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, for a service and we don’t know if they are qualified to do it,” Johnson said.

He said the bill would protect consumers from unscrupulous contractors while helping the industry weed out bad actors.

“We will get it through,” Johnson said of the measure. “This will be done within the next couple of the months, hopefully before the budget.”

Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, a primary sponsor of the Assembly version of the bill, said the measure “has gotten no opposition from the industry,” noting that NJBIA is “neutral” on the measure.

It would create the New Jersey State Board of Home Improvement and Home Elevation Contractors. It would have nine members: five home improvement contractors, one home elevation contractor, two members of the public and one member appointed by the governor.

The board would establish a code of ethics and standards for the industry. It would also set new education and experience requirements to be eligible for a license, which would be up for renewal every two years.

New contractors would have to complete an apprenticeship or training program or have a minimum of two years of experience under the direct supervision of an approved professional to get the license. They would also need to pass an exam that would test their knowledge of the field and related state law.

Contractors who have been registered as a home improvement contractor for at least five years would get a license — pending proof of other requirements — when their current contractor registration expires. Home elevation contractors with at least five years of experience in the home elevation business and who have been registered as a home improvement contractor for at least five years, or who have been registered as a home elevation contractor for at least five years, would also be eligible.

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Karin Price Mueller may be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @KPMueller.

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