Residents with work to do on their homes after Hurricane Sandy should be careful who they employ to do it.
The state Division of Consumer Affairs found that 124 of 630 — or about 20 percent — of contractors doing work on homes affected by Hurricane Sandy in Atlantic, Ocean and Monmouth counties since January were unregistered with the division, according to a release issued Monday.
The division investigated contractors doing work or seeking business from these affected property owners. The state issued warnings to the unregistered contractors, but if they are found to be working again without registering they can face fines and other monetary penalties.
"Those unregistered contractors who do not take the opportunity we're providing to comply with the law will face criminal charges and civil penalties," Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said in a statement. "We recognize how important contractors are to the rebuilding process, but they must comply with the law and treat our residents with fairness and honesty in all aspects of their work."
The state said it is important for homeowners to only use registered contractors, who are required under state law to provide proof of at least $500,000 in liability insurance and provide customers with written contracts for work in excess of $500. Registered contractors are also required to disclose the physical location of their business, and display their registration number on commercial vehicles, ads, websites and on consumer contracts.
The division advises residents the contract should include information such as start and completion dates, all work to be performed and the specific products to be used.
"The general rule of thumb is to pay (the business) no more than one-third beforehand, one-third halfway through, and one-third upon completion," the division states.
Contractors were the second-largest category of consumer complaints filed with the division in 2012. A total of 1,528 complaints were received, and the division anticipates more this year because of all the damage caused by Sandy.
If a contractor is not registered it is easier to commit fraud and not do the work.
FEMA spokesman Darrell Habisch said the federal agency works to be proactive to warn people of potential scams by people promising to do work they are not qualified or willing to do. This is commonplace after areas are hit by a storm, he said.
"We wholeheartedly endorse this message," he said.
On Thursday Barnegat police arrested a Tuckerton man on charges of failing to register as a contractor, a fourth-degree crime.
Police said Joseph Cornellier, 46, had a dispute with a homeowner in Barnegat over not doing work for which he was paid. Police said the dispute had been resolved but police found Cornellier was not registered and he was arrested. He was released pending a court date.
Other local police departments said this has not been an issue they have been forced to deal with but they are mindful of the potential problem.
Since Sandy, Brigantine police have sent out a weekly notice to residents reminding them to be careful of potential fraud among contractors.
Lt. James Bennett said after the storm they heard anecdotally from residents and other departments about unregistered businesses in the city, but so far "it's not been a big problem."
Contact Joel Landau:
Follow Joel Landau on Twitter @landaupressofac