What Are Pennsylvania Contractors?
The Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs handles the state-level licensing of several professions and occupations in Pennsylvania through its 29 boards and commissions. These professions include architecture, real estate appraisal, medicine, dentistry, engineering, and land surveying. However, professionals in the construction industry, such as electricians, plumbers, HVAC contractors, masonry contractors, painters, and carpenters, are generally not required to obtain state-issued licenses in Pennsylvania. Note that even though these contractors do not require state-level licenses, municipals in Pennsylvania typically have local licensing requirements for construction-related contractors. Also, the Pennsylvania Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act mandates home improvement contractors that perform jobs worth more than $5,000 in a year to register with the state’s Attorney General’s Office. Per this act, a home improvement contractor refers to any individual that owns and operates a business that undertakes any project worth more than $500 involving the repair, replacement, alteration, improvement, remodeling, modernization, or demolition of private residences.
Similar to several other professionals in Pennsylvania, attorneys are also regulated at a state level. However, this regulation is done by the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. As of 2020, Pennsylvania is estimated to have more than 49,240 active attorneys, with an attorney to resident rate of 3.8 attorneys per every 1,000 residents of the state.
Tips for Hiring a Contractor
With American homeowners spending an estimated $400 billion annually on residential renovations and repairs, deciding to undertake a home improvement project may be one of the most expensive decisions you ever make. Therefore, it is necessary to make sure that the contractor you hire for the job is competent enough to do a professional job and give you your money's worth. The following tips can guide you through the process of hiring a competent contractor in Pennsylvania:
- Get a detailed proposal for the project that includes a budget breakdown of materials and labor costs. It is advisable to get proposals and estimates from at least three different contractors to help you compare and contrast their project parameters
- Make sure that the contractor is registered with the state’s Attorney General’s Office. You can verify Pennsylvania home improvement contractors registration online or by calling 1-888-520-6680 toll-free
- Contact your local government authority to find out the licensing requirements for contractors in your municipality and make sure that the contractor meets every applicable requirement
- Ask the contractor for a minimum of three references that you can contact directly
- Request proof of insurance and bonding from the contractor
- Get a written contract that clearly states the work that is to be done, a starting date and an approximate completion date for the project, and the total cost of the project
- Properly read and understand the contract before you sign it. It is advisable to get an attorney to help you expertly review this contract and make sure you retain a copy after you sign it
- Do not make any payments until the contract has been signed, and any initial deposits that you make should not be more than one-third of the project’s total cost
- Make sure that the project is done correctly and to your satisfaction before you sign off on it and make final payments. Point out any defects or discrepancies as soon as you notice them
How to Search a Contractor’s License in Pennsylvania?
The regulation of contractors in Pennsylvania is primarily handled at the municipal level by local licensing authorities, and therefore, you will be required to contact the relevant licensing authority in your municipality to validate your contractor’s license.
However, any contractor that performs home improvement-related jobs worth $5,000 or more per year is statutorily required to register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office. You can verify that your intended professional has been duly registered by this office by calling toll-free number 1-888-520-6680 or by utilizing this office’s online Home Improvement Contractor Search portal.
Contractors that perform home improvement jobs worth at least $5,000 per calendar year and fail to register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office are considered to be in violation of the state’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act and can face possible criminal and civil penalties, including fines of $1,000 or more. Likewise, contractors that fail to meet the regulatory requirements of the jurisdiction they intend to provide their services in may also face several locally imposed penalties.
How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
Pennsylvania contractors generally charge an average of $40 - $90 per hour for their services. However, the total cost of hiring these contractors is dependent on factors like the type of contractor, the type of job that has to be done, and the contractor’s location. Listed below are hourly cost estimates for some common home improvement contractors in Pennsylvania:
Because hiring a home improvement contractor involves you signing a contract, it is advisable to hire an attorney to make sure that the contract does not contain any loopholes or clauses that may adversely affect your rights as a consumer. Pennsylvania attorneys charge an average of $100 - $300 for their services. Note that this fee is also dependent on several factors, some of which are the attorney's level of experience and the simplicity or complexity of your legal situation.
What Are Home Improvement
Scams in Pennsylvania?
Home improvement scams in Pennsylvania are deceptive activities carried out by home improvement contractors that result in a loss of money for homeowners. A home improvement scam is said to occur in the state when any of the following takes place:
- A contractor intentionally provides a homeowner with false or misleading information to get this homeowner to enter into a home improvement agreement
- A contractor damages or destroys a homeowner’s property in order to solicit an agreement for repair services or materials
- A contractor fails to provide services or materials after being paid to do so
- A contractor publishes deceptive or false advertisements
- A contractor alters a contract or other project-related documents without the knowledge or consent of the homeowner
- A contractor falsely claims to be an employee of a governmental or public utility agency
- A contractor misrepresents materials as special order materials or misrepresents the cost of these materials
There is always the risk of hiring a contractor that is looking to pull off a home improvement scam on you. You can mitigate this risk by making sure that the contractor is not only duly registered at the state level, but also meets any licensing requirements that your municipality may have. Always insist on getting a written contract for any home improvement project that you want to undertake. It is a good idea to get an attorney to review this contract to make sure that it complies with the stipulations of the Pennsylvania Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act before you sign it. Finally, report any suspected home improvement scams to the state’s Attorney General’s Office online. You can also report unregistered home improvement contractors via email or by calling 1-888-520-6680.
Contractors that are found accused of committing home improvement scams in Pennsylvania can face first-degree misdemeanor or third-degree felony criminal charges and can be punished by fines of up to $15,000, a jail term of up to five years, or both. Punishments are usually more severe in cases where the victim is aged 60 years or older. Note that contractors found guilty of committing home improvement scams may also have civil penalties imposed in addition to criminal punishment.
What are Common Home Improvement Scams in Pennsylvania?
Deceptive home improvement contractors use various tactics and schemes to try to pull off home improvement scams on Pennsylvanian homeowners. A majority of these scams are targeted at older Pennsylvanians, who are considered easy targets that are also less likely to report these scams to the authorities. Some of the common tactics that deceptive contractors use to carryout out home improvement scams in Pennsylvania include:
- Requesting upfront payments for jobs and then disappearing without doing any work or doing a shoddy job
- Offering low prices and then increasing the cost of the project as it progresses
- Offering discounts in exchange for not disclosing their registration, insurance, or bonding status
- Falsely claiming that permits are not a requirement for the project
- Showing up unsolicited and claiming to have leftover supplies from a recently completed project
You can reduce the chances of becoming a victim of these scams by taking the following actions:
- Be suspicious of contractors that show up at your home uninvited
- Resist any high-pressure or scare tactics that may be used to try to get you to carry out an immediate home repair or improvement job
- Always make sure that any contractor you hire is properly licensed and registered. Verify the contractor’s registration status online or by calling 1-888-520-6680 and contact your local licensing authority to make sure that the contractor is authorized to work in your municipality
- Get a written estimate of the project that details the scope of the job, the type and cost of materials to be used, and an approximate total cost
- Make sure that you get a written contract for the project. Note that the state’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act requires all contracts to contain certain information otherwise they may be voided. This information includes the contractor’s contact details, a timeline for the project, a description of the work that is to be performed and a set of specifications for materials to be used, and the total cost of the project
- Remember that you have the right to rescind any contract that was signed in your home as a result of an uninvited solicitation. Note that this must be done not later than three business days after the date that the contract was signed
- Never pay the full cost of any project before it is completed. Per state law, contractors are prohibited from requesting or receiving any form of payment before a contract is signed or receiving more than one-third of the total contract price as an initial payment for projects that cost more than $5,000.
- Always insist on your contractor obtaining all necessary permits that are required for your project. You can find out the applicable permits for your project by contacting your local building department
- Report any unregistered contractors operating in your municipality to the state’s Attorney General’s Office via email or by calling 1-888-520-6680. You can also report contractors that do not meet the licensing requirements of your municipality to your local licensing authority
In July 2020, the state’s Attorney General’s Office announced that it had filed a lawsuit against four contracting companies that had scammed homeowners by receiving large down payments from several Pennsylvanian senior citizens without providing the expected services. This office had previously announced that it had filed 35 legal actions in 17 counties as part of a statewide initiative aimed at enforcing contractors’ compliance with the state’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. Included in these legal actions were issues involving non-registration, failure to maintain current registration, failure to begin or complete work, and substandard or shoddy completed jobs.
Pennsylvanians that believe that they have been the victim of a home improvement scam can file a complaint with the state's Attorney General's Office online, via email, or by mailing a completed Consumer Complaint Form to:
- Office of Attorney General
- Bureau of Consumer Protection
- Strawberry Square
- 15th Floor
- Harrisburg, PA 17120
What are Disaster Scams in Pennsylvania?
Disasters are damaging and sometimes unavoidable events that leave injuries and destruction in their wake. Unfortunately, these disasters also attract opportunistic scammers and dubious contractors who try to take advantage of Pennsylvanians whose homes and property have been affected by the disaster in question. Having to deal with a scam while trying to rebuild your damaged home can be an exasperating experience. In light of this, the following tips have been compiled to help Pennsylvanian homeowners avoid falling victim to a disaster scam:
- Be wary of any individual going door to door and offering repair services
- Resist any pressure to take immediate action.
- Find out if your insurer has a list of approved home repair contractors. You can also get recommendations on contractors from trusted friends and family members. It is a good idea to stick to well-known and reputable local contractors
- Get at least three estimates for the project and make sure that these estimates are based on the same materials and specifications
- Verify the contractor’s registration status. You should also contact your local licensing authority to find out if there are any additional licensing requirements for contractors in your area of residence
- Make sure that the contractor provides you with the names and contact details of no less than three past clients.
- Request a written contract for the project. Do not make any payments until you review and sign this contract. It is a good idea to get an attorney to help you with the review
- Never pay the full cost of the project upfront. Limit any initial payments to a maximum of one-third of the total cost of the project and do not pay with cash
- Make sure that the job is properly completed under the terms of your written contract before making final payment and sign any certificate of completion that the contractor provides
- Trust your gut. Do not hire any contractor that you feel uneasy about. You can also file complaints concerning disaster scams to the state’s Attorney General’s Office
What are Common Legal
Work Scams in Pennsylvania?
Legal work scams in Pennsylvania are deceptive or fraudulent schemes and activities that involve unethical attorneys or con artists posing as attorneys. The most common types of legal work scams reported in Pennsylvania are:
- Living trust scams: unethical attorneys and con artists posing as attorneys use the fear of the unknown to deceptively get elderly Pennsylvanians to create a living trust. These scammers use a combination of legal jargon and high-pressure tactics to convince their victims that creating a living trust is the best way to leave an inheritance for their loved ones. In some cases, the victims are sold a worthless "living trust kit" for a huge sum of money. Other times, the scammers use this ruse to gain access to their victims' financial information
- Financial planning scams: this scam involves con artists posing as estate planning attorneys and financial planners contacting unsuspecting Pennsylvanians and offering them financial and estate planning services for a fee. Financial planning scams are mostly targeted at older residents of Pennsylvania
- Legal impersonation scams: this scam involves a con artist pretending to be an attorney or a courthouse official contacting a potential target and requesting some form of payment. The scammers use a variety of reasons to justify this request, ranging from claiming that the target missed a court-scheduled appearance and has to pay a fine, to stating that the call is being made on behalf of a relative that is in immediate need of funds for bail. This scam typically incorporates the use of phone spoofing technology to make the target believe that the call is being made from a legitimate source
Irrespective of the scheme used to carry out the legal work scam, you can avoid becoming a victim by taking certain precautions when dealing with law-related matters. These include:
- Be wary of individuals that claim to be attorneys and offer you unsolicited legal or financial advice
- Verify the status of any person that claims to be an attorney. You can do this online via the look up an attorney webpage provided by the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Details provided by this webpage include the licensing status and the disciplinary history, if any, of the attorney in question
- Do not make any hasty financial decisions. Resist high-pressure sales tactics and take the time to do your due diligence on any offers that you receive
- Be wary of attorneys that proffer living trusts as an ultimate estate planning solution
- Remember that there is no one size fits all when it comes to living trusts or any other type of estate planning instrument
- Make sure that you have the option of periodically updating any trusts that you create. Also, try to properly understand the process for doing this as well as any additional costs that may be involved
- Always remember that licensed attorneys are the only professionals authorized to give you any type of legal advice in Pennsylvania. Beware of unlicensed individuals that offer to draft legal papers or provide legal interpretations for you
- Hang up as soon as any caller that claims to be an attorney or courthouse official asks for money or threatens you. If the caller claims that you have a relative in trouble, contact someone that should know the whereabouts of the relative in question to verify this
- Report unethical attorney behavior to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. You can also file complaints concerning legal work scams with the state’s Attorney General’s Office
How Long Does it Take to Get a Contractor License in
Contractor licensing in Pennsylvania is handled locally by the state's municipals, and the processing time for obtaining a contractor's license is determined by each respective municipality's local licensing authority. Note that home improvement contractors in Pennsylvania are required to complete a registration process with the state’s Attorney General’s Office. Registration can be done online or by completing and mailing a Home Improvement Contractor Registration Application Form to:
- Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General
- Bureau of Consumer Protection
- Strawberry Square
- 15th Floor
- Harrisburg, PA 17120
- ATTN: Home Improvement Contractor Registration
Mail-in registrations typically take several weeks to process and registrants are advised to utilize the online registration process for faster processing. Queries concerning home improvement contractor registration can be directed to (717) 772-2425.
How to Maintain Your License in Pennsylvania
Registered home improvement contractors are required to update any changes to their registration information not later than 30 days after these changes occur. These updates, which include changes in contact information, insurance information, business information, and other background information like bankruptcies, civil judgments, and criminal convictions, can be done online via the state's Home Improvement Contractor Registration webpage. Queries concerning contractor registration information updates can be directed to the state’s Attorney General’s office at (717) 772-2425. On the other hand, contractors that have locally issued licenses can contact their respective local licensing authorities to find out the requirements for contractor license maintenance in their municipalities.
Attorneys in Pennsylvania are also required to report any name changes, contact information changes, and professional liability insurance status changes to the state's Attorney Registration office within 30 days. This can be done by completing the applicable form and submitting it via fax to (717) 231-3381, email, or mail-in to:
- Attorney Registration
- 601 Commonwealth Avenue
- Suite 5600
- P.O. Box 62625
- Harrisburg, PA 17106-2625
Attorneys can also request a transfer from active status to either inactive or retired status by submitting the appropriate application form to the Attorney Registration Office at the above-listed address.
Finally, attorneys in Pennsylvania that were registered to practice law in the state on or after July 1, 1992, are required to complete 12 hours of mandatory continuing legal education annually.
How to Renew a Contractor License in
Municipals in Pennsylvania determine the validity period, as well as the renewal process, for contractor licenses that are issued in their jurisdictions. Contractors with locally issued licenses can contact their local licensing authority to find out the renewal procedure for these licenses. On the other hand, registered home improvement contractors are required to renew their registration with the state's Attorney General's Office every two years, and this renewal can be done via the Home Improvement Contractor Registration webpage. Note that the payment of renewal fees may be required.
Similarly, Pennsylvania attorneys are required to complete an annual attorney registration process. The registration window opens on or before May 15 every year and it must be done online via the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System’s web portal not later than July 1. Attorneys that do not complete this registration by July 16 will be required to pay a late fee penalty, and a second penalty will be charged to attorneys that do not complete the registration by August 1. Any attorney that does not complete the annual registration process by August 1 will be administratively suspended.