13 Consumer Rights Contractors Don’t Want You to Know.
By Daniel Myers
When you hire an Ohio construction contractor to repair, rehabilitate, remodel, or construct your home, that contractor is required to follow many different regulations. The point of these rules and regulations is to ensure that you know what you are buying, you know what you are spending, and that you get what you wanted. You can find some of these rights and protections in the Ohio Revised Code, and others can be found in the Ohio Administrative Code (regulations written by various Attorney Generals over the years). If you wanted to, you could read these hundreds of pages of regulations and rules.
But the vast majority of your rights are much harder to find. Even if you have access to an expensive case database from one of the big legal research providers, you still won’t find these protections. Whenever a court in Ohio declares that something a company did violates the consumer laws, those cases are filed away in an Attorney General database called the Online Public Inspection File, or OPIF for short. That is where you can find the many thousands of specific consumer rights and protections you have. Well, you could find them if you know how to search a database with incomplete information and inaccurate search terms, assuming the database is actually working at the moment of your search. That said, the database is useful, and it is improved and easier to use compared to previous versions.
We at Myers Law decided to share some of the most important, but little known, rights and protections found in the OPIF, but which you might not have known existed. You may not have heard of them because they are only located in a little-known database. If you have heard of all of these, congratulations! You know more than most attorneys do!
- You have the right to know if subcontractors are going to be used on your project, and if so, who the subcontractors are. This is important because you want to know who is coming into your home, who is actually performing the work, and who else may be liable to you if something goes wrong.
- You have the right to have your contract followed to the letter. Contractors sometimes cut corners, or demand payment sooner than payment is required. They violate the consumer law when they do that. Something as common as a run-of-the-mill breach of contract can rise to the level of “deceptive, unfair, or unconscionable” acts under the consumer law entitling you to triple damages and attorney fees.
- You have the right to have your phone calls and questions answered. It is illegal for contractors to constantly ignore your concerns, calls, or questions after you hire them, especially when you are trying to get an explanation from them.
- You have the right to have your day in court (or arbitration) at the location where you signed the contract, or where you reside. Sometimes contractors try to hide “forum selection” provisions in your contract, which say that if you sue the contractor, you have to sue them in a court far away from where you are located. Those are often illegal.
- You have a right to know if your contractor is in a bad financial situation. A contractor must disclose to you if they are in a “precarious financial condition,” when it is substantially likely that they will not be able to complete the job or honor warranties.
- You have the right to know how long the contractor has actually been in business. Companies often claim that they have some number of years “of experience,” or “10,000 happy customers since” a given year. Those years of experience, and years in business, have to be accurate. If they are not, then the contractor may have violated the law.
- You have the right to demand and receive a written contract. Sometimes contractors try to do a deal on a handshake, or oral promises. That is often illegal. You have the right to get the terms of your agreement in writing–all of them. If the contractor does not provide one, they may be violating the consumer protection laws.
- You have the right to be charged only a reasonable amount. Some contractors will engage in price gouging, or charge you more than what others would usually charge for the same work. They might charge someone who doesn’t “know better” more, or charge someone more because they think they can pay more. It is illegal to charge in excess of the price at which other consumers in the area can get the same services.
- Usted tiene derecho a recibir un recibo de compra, contrato, y los avisos en el mismo idioma que se utilizó oralmente en cualquiera presentación de ventas. Si un contratista se reúne con usted y ofrece venderle el trabajo de reparación en español o en otro idioma, pero todos los contratos y otros documentos están en inglés, esto podría violar la ley de Ohio (You have a right to receive your receipt, contract, and notices in the same language that was used in any oral sales presentation. If a contractor meets with you and offers to sell you repair work in Spanish or another language, but all of the contracts and other documents are in English, this could violate Ohio law.)
- You have the right to immediately kick a contractor off your property if you don’t want to buy from them. Don’t allow the contractor to overstay their welcome. If you are done listening to the sales presentation, ask them to leave. If they insist on staying to pressure you, they have violated the consumer law.
- You have a right to know when the work will be completed. The contractor is obligated to tell you, before work begins, the date by which the work should be completed. This must be in writing.
- You have the right to force your contractor to have its trade name or business registered. Not only does your contractor need to be registered with your local building department, and possibly the state licensing authority, but every corporation must be registered with the Secretary of State, and every doing-business-as name (d.b.a. or trade name, like Wild Willy’s Re-Used Shingles) must be registered with the Ohio Secretary of State, as well. You want to make sure your contractor is registered with the Secretary of State and local building department, because it will be easier to track them down if something goes wrong.
- You have the right to substantially benefit from the repair work being done. It is illegal for contractors to sell you a service or repair that they know you won’t benefit from. For example, if a contractor offers to patch your leaky roof, knowing that the patch won’t actually stop the leak (fixing the leak is the entire reason you hired the contractor), that may be a deceptive act under the law.