Do your research before hiring a home improvement contractor

Date: July 10, 2019

Summer is peak home improvement season. Unfortunately, police at this time of year are more likely to hear reports of contractor fraud and door-to-door solicitations without required permits. 

Residents who may be considering hiring a contractor to make home improvements are advised to be aware that Pennsylvania has a Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act.  Ferguson Township Police ask residents to be familiar with Pennsylvania’s requirements of contractors and to do your research before entering into an agreement or paying for a home improvement project.  

Police have investigated contractors who have accepted payment for work they did not perform, or failed to issue a refund for work they did not complete and materials they did not use. Residents also have reported contractors who charged far more than their original estimate. In one case, a driveway paving contractor told a customer the job would cost $1,500, but after completing the work, insisted the homeowner pay $9,000. 

A contractor with the intent to defraud a customer will be held criminally liable. In such cases, the contractor may make false or misleading statements, or cause damage to a homeowner’s personal property, to induce that homeowner to enter into an agreement. The contractor may conceal his or her real name or the name of the business. To prove criminal behavior by a contractor, the evidence needs to prove intent to defraud beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Pennsylvania law requires contractors to: 

• Ask for no more than 1/3 of the total cost of the job as a deposit, or 1/3 of the cost plus special materials, when the total cost exceeds $5,000.
• Register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office and renew that registration annually. 
• Submit a contract to the customer in writing and include the contractor’s state registration number. 

While the law requires contractors to register with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, this registration is not an endorsement of their honesty or the quality of their work. For this reason, in addition to seeing whether a contractor is registered with the Attorney General’s office, you should also:

• Thoroughly check your contractor’s references.
• Talk to friends and neighbors who have hired the contractor.
• Obtain more than one bid for the job.
• Check for complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau.
• Check online reviews but be aware they may be fake.
• Be wary of a contractor who solicits you at your door without a required permit. 

Note: Residents who plan to have a driveway paved onto a Township road are required to obtain a driveway permit from the Township Engineer. Learn more in our Frequently Asked Questions on our website:

Or, consult our Planning & Zoning FAQs which feature a complete list of permit questions.

To verify the registration of a home improvement contractor, go to the Registered Contractors section of the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s website. Please note: Registration under HICPA is not an endorsement, recommendation or approval by the Office of Attorney General of the contractor’s competency or skill. Consumers or businesses may call the Attorney General’s Home Improvement Registration Hotline at 1-888-520-6680, to report unregistered contractors operating in their communities. Complaints about unregistered contractors can also be emailed to the Attorney General's office at:

  • When you enter into a contract, both the contractor and homeowner should sign off on the terms of the work to be completed. Any change to the contract should be in writing and also signed by both the contractor and the homeowner. An oral agreement makes it more difficult for police to prove contractor fraud. 
  • The contract shall also state that the cost of the services to be performed under the time and materials provision shall not be increased over the initial cost estimate plus a 10 percent increase without a written change order signed by the homeowner and the contractor.
  • Do not sign a completion certificate or pay the contractor if the work has not been completed to your satisfaction.
  • If you believe you are a victim of a contractor, call Ferguson Township Police. If police are unable to prosecute criminally, there is still an avenue to pursue civil litigation. Police will investigate each case and assist homeowners as needed, even if the resolution is to file a civil suit.

Note: Home improvements may include repairs, remodeling, roofing, painting, installation of doors and windows, swimming pools, porches, garages, siding, insulation, solar energy systems, security systems, as well as driveway work. It does not include construction of new homes, the sale of appliances, or landscaping work. 

Consult the Attorney General’s website for the complete list of home improvements, full details about the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, and answers to frequently asked questions.