The ever-changing legal issues specific to construction and development are unique and complex. I help clients understand and efficiently resolve issues related to residential construction and renovation projects. I have successfully assisted private property owners, developers, design professionals, general contractors, sureties, subcontractors, and suppliers with resolving disputes. The best way to avoid a dispute, however, is to have a compliant home improvement or new home construction contract in place before your project commences.
Connecticut General Statutes 20-419 et seq. is known as the Home Improvement Act. In Connecticut, residential homeowners (and registered home improvement general contractors) are protected by this statutory scheme. Before work commences on a renovation project and after a homeowner has selected a contractor to perform the improvements, Connecticut General Statutes 20-429 mandates that a written agreement between owner and contractor is executed at least three days before work begins. The statute provides that no home improvement contract shall be valid or enforceable against an owner unless it: (i) Is in writing; (ii) is signed by the owner(s) 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; (vii) contains a starting date and completion date for the project; (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 Home Improvement Act or New Home Construction Act 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.
This statute essentially prohibits “time and materials” verbal or written construction agreements for residential projects. In other words, every improvement to a residential structure utilizing a contractor requires that the agreement be memorialized in a writing that contains the above nine elements. Very few written residential improvement agreements contain all nine elements. Failure to omit one or two of the foregoing nine elements does not mean that all contracts would fail to be enforceable by a contractor against an owner if a dispute arises between the parties. The statute explicitly states that a contractor may recover payment for work performed as long as the written, signed contract with the owner contains at a minimum the notice of cancellation rights, a start date, an end date, and the contractor is registered. If a contractor has these minimum elements in his agreement with the homeowner, then the contractor may recover in quantum merit. This Latin term literally means “as much as he has deserved.” In other words, the contractor is entitled to get paid work performed and materials provided at the owner’s residence.
In my practice, I rarely review proposed agreements for home renovations. I generally become involved after the contract has allegedly been breached by one or both of the parties to the agreement and the dispute between the parties is approaching the boiling point. Sometimes a contractor attempting to get paid, whether properly or improperly, will prepare, record and serve a mechanic’s lien on the homeowner. When the dispute escalates to a lien being recorded on the land records, then there are very few alternatives to resolve the dispute except to litigate.
I provide affordable dispute resolution services to my clients including mediation, arbitration and litigation. If you are involved in a residential construction or renovation project and would like to learn more about ensuring a smooth contractual relationship, then contact my office to schedule a consultation with me. Ignorance of the statutory scheme can endanger your reputation and result in a substantial loss of assets if you jump into an improvement project without the proper documentation and shared expectations.