An Explanation of The Home Improvement Act’s Licensed Contractor Exception

Construction going on in the city.

Chapter 400 of the Connecticut General Statutes is known as the Home Improvement Act.  “The purpose of the Home Improvement Act is to ensure that home improvements are performed by qualified people.”  Santa Fuel, Inc. v. Varga, 77 Conn.App. 474, 495 (Conn.App.,2003).  A “[h]ome improvement contract” means an agreement between a contractor and an owner for the performance of a home improvement.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 20-419.  As a general rule, a home improvement contract is not enforceable against a homeowner unless the contract complies with the writing requirements of the Home Improvement Act.  Laser Contracting, LLC v. Torrance Family Ltd. Partnership, 108 Conn.App. 222, 226, (Conn.App.,2008).

The Home Improvement Act serves a valid purpose but may be heavy handed in its application.  In holding that the failure to comply with the statutory requirements for a home improvement contract bars all recovery, including claims sounding in implied contract and unjust enrichment, the Connecticut Supreme Court said the following:

We recognize that our decision may lead to a harsh result where a contractor in good faith but in ignorance of the law performs valuable home improvements without complying with § 20-429.  We are unpersuaded that this deficiency in the statute is within our power to remedy.  Clearly, the legislature is entitled, in the first instance, to impose the burden of compliance with the statute on the professional, the contractor, rather than on the nonprofessional, the consumer.  Viewing the continued incidence of complaints about home improvement contractors, the legislature could legitimately view as more urgent the need to protect consumers from unscrupulous contractors than the need to protect innocent contractors from manipulative consumers.

Barrett Builders v. Miller, 215 Conn. 316, 326-27 (Conn.,1990).  The result of the Barrett Builders decision is that a home improvement contractor, who innocently fails to comply with a requirement of the Home Improvement Act – such as not having a start date written in the contract – and is not paid despite performing the requested work in a workmanlike manner, has no recourse against an unscrupulous homeowner.

One of the requirements of the Home Improvement Act is that a home improvement contractor must be registered.  A contractor becomes a registered home improvement contractor by obtaining a certificate of registration from the Department of Consumer Protection.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 20-420.  An exception to this rule is found in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 20-428, which states that the Home Improvement Act shall not apply to “any person holding a current professional or occupational license issued pursuant to the general statutes…provided such person engages only in that work for which such person is licensed or registered.”

The exception to the registration requirement was explained in Santa Fuel, Inc. v. Varga, 77 Conn.App. 474.  In Santa Fuel, Inc., the work for which the contractor sought payment was the removal of fuel oil storage tank.  The contractor sought exception from the Home Improvement Act because some of its employees were licensed “for heating, cooling, piping, and plumbing work.”  Id.   The court agreed with the contractor and said that the “purpose [of the Home Improvement Act] will not be subverted by allowing businesses with a corporate structure that hire licensed plumbers for the performance of their plumbing work to be exempt from the necessity of a written contract.”  Santa Fuel, Inc. v. Varga, 77 Conn.App. 474, 495  (Conn.App.,2003).  The court’s holding did not require all the contractor’s employees to be licensed as long as the employees in charge of the work were licensed.  Id.  The court also found that the foregoing exception would apply where the company’s employees were licensed even if the company itself were not licensed.  Id.

If you have any questions about whether you need a home improvement contractor registration or about whether your contract complies with the requirements of the Home Improvement Act, please give me a call.

Scott Orenstein
(203) 640-8825