NEWARK, NJ - A Bridgewater business is one of 68 home improvement contractors issued notices of violation Wednesday by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, for a total of more than $1.3 million in civil penalties and consumer restitution because of complaints by consumers, according to a release from the state's Division of Consumer Affairs office.

Bela Cruz Contracting Limited Liability Company was the Bridgewater business named in the issuance.

According to the release, the Division of Consumer Affairs has directed 62 of the contractors to pay a total of $1,046,978 in consumer restitution in amounts ranging from as little as $378 to as much as $185,000 because of failures to complete work that consumers had paid for in advance, failing to refund deposits and other issues.

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"Home improvement disputes are consistently the number-one consumer complaint category the Division of Consumer Complaints receives year after year," Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman said in the release. "With this action, we are demanding more than $1 million in restitution for consumers who paid for work that allegedly was never finished. We also are giving these contractors the opportunity to come into compliance with the law, and reminding New Jersey consumers to protect themselves by conducting basic research before hiring a contractor."

According to the release, the division has cited all 68 contractors for violations of the New Jersey Contractor Registration Act. Such violations, the release said, include failing to provide consumers with detailed, written contracts for home improvement projects that cost more than $500. In addition, a total of 44 of the companies were cited for operating without being registered as home improvement contractors in New Jersey.

Bela Cruz Contracting Limited Liability Company, in Bridgewater, is a registered business with the state.

In total, the release said, the state has assessed $276,250 in civil penalties against the 68 contractors, for a combined total assessment, with civil penalties and consumer restitution, of more than $1.3 million.

"When contractors fail to comply with the law, of the terms of their contracts, consumers can be left with costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and a house full of unfinished improvements," said Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee in the release. "Our registration laws help place consumers on equal footing with the contractors they hire, and help ensure that those contractors can be held accountable."

According to the release, in 2013, the Division of Consumer Affairs received 1,434 consumer complaints about home improvement contractors. That made it the largest consumer complaint category in that year alone.

State law, the release said, requires that individuals and businesses who solicit or perform home improvement work obtain registration from the Division of Consumer Affairs. The registration requires demonstration that the contractor has a legitimate street address, as well as at least $500,000 in liability insurance.

For those projects that cost more than $500, the release said, contractors must provide the consumer with a written contract with specific and detailed information, including agreed price, starting dates, ending dates, scope of the work, business registration number and more.

Those contractors that have received a notice of violation, the release said, can contest the assertion of a violation, or can correct the violation by desisting from practices that are in violation of the law, while also paying a civil penalty and consumer restitution where required.

Those violating the Contractors' Registration Act are subject to civil penalties of up to $10,000 for the first violation and up to $20,000 for subsequent violations.

The Division of Consumer Affairs offers tips to consumers for hiring contractors. Those tips are:

  • Learn about a contractor before deciding to hire, and ask that contractor for references you can speak to before hiring them.
  • Contact the Division of Consumer Affairs to find out if the contractor is duly registered to perform home improvement work in New Jersey.
  • Demand a copy of the contractor's liability insurance and contact the insurer before hiring the contractor.
  • Obtain a written contract.
  • Make sure all warranties and guarantees are in writing.
  • Ensure that all applicable construction permits have been obtained.
  • Remember that you do not have to pay for the entire project in advance. Generally, you pay one-third in advance, one-third halfway through and the remaining amount upon completion.
  • Additional tips can be found in the Division's Consumer Brief at http://www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/brief/improve.pdf.