Home renovation projects can be long and costly. While consumers are protected by numerous provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2002 (CPA), contractors are largely unregulated, allowing unscrupulous contractors to take advantage of consumers. Home renovation grievances were the second most common complaint received by the Ministry of Consumer Services from 2004 to 2010. Taking time to plan, organize, and educate yourself before beginning a renovation project can help the process to go more smoothly. This article will give you an overview of what you should know when dealing with a contractor, and what you can do if you need to seek legal recourse.
Renovation Agreements and Estimates
Home renovation agreements must be in writing if they involve $50 or more of goods or services, and at least one of the parties is in Ontario. The agreement must provide the names of and contact information for the parties, a detailed description of the work to be completed, when and where the work will be completed, and the names of any subcontractors. The agreement must be signed and dated by all parties. The final price of the renovation cannot be greater than 10 percent above the estimated cost (if any) included in the agreement. If new work arises, the contractor must discuss it with you and ask you to approve a change order that includes the new work, with a revised estimate.
Home renovations are warranted under the CPA to be of reasonably acceptable quality. The contractor is responsible for backing up these warranties if a problem arises during or after the conclusion of the renovations.
Beware of Door-to-Door Contractors
Some home renovation contractors go door-to-door selling their products and services. These are called “direct agreements” under the CPA. You should be very cautious of door-to-door contractors who claim to “just be in the neighbourhood”. Always ask about the contractor’s experience, and for his or her business address and phone number. You should get estimates from at least three different contractors, and avoid paying any large up-front fees or deposits. Some salespeople may offer to inspect furnaces, chimneys, or roofs free of charge, and then tell you that expensive work is required. It is important not to be tempted to sign a contract on the spot merely because the salesperson is present.
Your Legal Recourse
The CPA provides special protections related to direct agreements like door-to-door sales contracts. If the direct agreement was signed at a place other than the contractor’s place of business, you have a “cooling off” period until 10 days after receiving a copy of the agreement, during which you may cancel it without penalty. If you do not receive a written copy of the agreement, you may cancel it anytime within one year. To cancel the agreement, notify the contractor. While written notice is not required, it is wise to give notice in writing and to keep proof that you did so (such as a fax confirmation, registered mail receipt, or having the contractor or its employee sign a receipt when the notice is delivered).
If you are not satisfied with the home renovation work, contact the business directly and clearly outline your complaint in writing. Keep proof of delivery and any of interaction with the business. If the matter is not resolved that way report the problem to the Ministry of Consumer Services, which has broad investigative powers. As a last resort, legal action may be necessary for home renovations that were not performed as agreed.
For more information and to contact the Ministry of Consumer Services, call 1-800-880-9768 or visit their website http://www.sse.gov.on.ca/mcs/en/pages/Homes_repairs_and_renovations.aspx where you can find complaint forms and help on cancelling contracts. In addition, you can find more information about consumer protection topics at any time in a series of Community Law School webinars archived online at www.yourlegalrights.on.ca/training-topic/consumer-law. Be empowered, and stay tuned.
This column is brought to you by Community Law School (Sarnia-Lambton) Inc., and Community Legal Services and Pro Bono Students Canada at Western University, with funding support from the Law Foundation of Ontario. It provides legal information only. The information is accurate as of the date of publication. Laws change frequently so we caution readers from relying on this information if some time has passed since publication. If you need specific legal advice please contact a lawyer, your community legal clinic: Rural Legal Services at (613) 279-3252 or 1-888-777-8916, Justice Net at 1-866-919-3219, or the Law Society Referral Service at 1-800-268-8326.