How to Sue a Contractor in New Jersey?

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 When Can I Sue a Contractor in New Jersey?

In New Jersey, one option a homeowner who wants to sue a contractor has regarding home improvement contractors is a lawsuit based on the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). Pursuant to the CFA, home improvement contractors are subject to a number of regulations included in the New Jersey Home Improvement Practices Act (NJHIPA) and the Home Improvement Contractor Registration Act (HICRA).

Together, these laws require all New Jersey home improvement and home construction contractors to do the following:

  • Register with New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs;
  • Provide the consumer with a contract that is in writing and written change orders as well;
  • State both start and end dates for a project in the written contract;
  • Delay work only for a valid reason;
  • Not require a customer to make the final payment for a project before the work is complete;
  • Obtain all necessary permits for a project;
  • Provide any guarantees and warranties in writing;
  • Make false and misleading representations regarding the contract price.

This list is not the complete list of what New Jersey law requires of home improvement contractors. The law specifies a number of other actions and inactions that constitute consumer fraud by a contractor in New Jersey.

In New Jersey, a homeowner may sue a home improvement contractor under the CFA when the contractor violates any of the statutes or regulations listed above or does any of the following:

  • The contractor uses any unconscionable commercial practice or fraudulent misrepresentation in their advertising, sales routines, or in the performance of their contracting services;
  • The contractor knowingly does not disclose a material fact regarding a project;
  • The contractor pressures the consumer to begin work before an agreement has been reached.

Of course, there are other situations in which a person might sue a building contractor. A local attorney in New Jersey would be able to provide additional information.

What Are Some Legal Claims That Can Be Filed Against a Contractor?

In New Jersey, a consumer may sue a contractor who does any of the prohibited acts identified above. If the homeowner is successful in their lawsuit, New Jersey allows them to win an amount that is 3 times their actual damages, plus an amount equal to their attorney’s fees and costs.

In addition to suing a contractor for violations of the 3 Acts noted above, a homeowner might file a suit pursuant to the New Jersey New Home Warranty and Builders Registration Act (NHWA). This Act requires a builder to register with the state prior to constructing a new home.

The Act also implies a warranty that applies to the construction of a new residential structure for 1 year. This warranty has extensive coverage that applies to major structural defects, workmanship, materials, as well as appliances and fixtures.

As applied to the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems, the warranty lasts for 2 years. As applied to major structural defects, the warranty is valid for 10 years. Of course, these warranties only apply to new residential construction.

However, if a person has a contract with a construction contractor that includes an express warranty, and the contractor’s work product does not conform to what is promised by the warranty, a homeowner may sue for breach of an express warranty.

In addition, a person suing a contractor for poor workmanship may always sue for breach of contract if the contractor’s performance fails to meet standards for their performance promised in the contract they have with a homeowner.

Yet another option in New Jersey is a lawsuit against a contractor for construction defects. Some common construction defects are the following:

  • Defects in the Design of a Project: Design defects result from the errors or omissions in the architectural or engineering design of the project;
  • Defects in the Material Used for a Project: Materials may be of inferior quality. Substandard materials can deteriorate too rapidly or create safety risks;
  • Defective Workmanship: If a contractor uses poor construction practices or does not comply with industry standards, a project may have workmanship defects;
  • Water Intrusion: Improperly installation of waterproofing systems can result in water damage to materials, mold growth, and deterioration of a structure;
  • Failure to Obtain Required Building Permits or to Meet Local Codes.

A person may discover that there are defects of this sort in their project. If this is the case, they may sue for negligence, strict product liability, or breach of warranty for construction defects, depending on the facts of their situation.

Can I Sue a Contractor Without a Contract?

If a person hires a contractor to perform construction work for them, the person has made a contract with the contractor. The contract may not be in writing, but a contract can be perfectly valid even if it is not in writing. Contracts may be oral. Contracts do not even have to be expressed in words, orally, or in writing. They may be implied by circumstances, although that is unlikely in the situation in which a person hires a contractor.

If a person does not have a written contract with their contractor, then they have an oral contract. That is because they talked about the project that the contractor was hired to complete, although they did not express their understanding in writing. This is enough to create a valid oral contract.

In New Jersey, as noted above, a contractor is legally required to have a written contract with a consumer, and it must include both start and end dates for the project. In addition, any guarantees or warranties must be in writing.

In addition, a consumer should ensure that a written contract clearly states the price that is to be paid as well as the schedule according to which payment is to be made. Another important item would be a list of materials to be used. It might specify that there are to be no substitutions of materials if material quality is important to the customer.

A written contract is required for construction projects in New Jersey. It is also wise to put a contract into written form because it helps prevent misunderstandings and is helpful in a dispute, especially one that ends up in a court of law.

How Do I Sue for Breach of Contract?

Even if a person wants to sue on a traditional theory of breach of contract or negligence, they would still attempt a resolution through negotiation before filing a lawsuit against the contractor. This is standard in the case of any lawsuit.

One of the options is to try to negotiate a settlement. Another option would be to try an alternative dispute resolution procedure, e.g., mediation, with the contractor. Of course, if none of these options are successful, then a person would have to think about going to court.

If a person plans to sue a contractor, their first step is to gather all evidence they have that supports their claim. This would encompass contracts, invoices, receipts, and any communication with the contractor, such as emails or text messages. It is also important to document any damages that were caused by the contractor’s negligence or breach of contract.

To file a lawsuit against the contractor, a person would need to prepare a complaint. Filing the complaint with the clerk of the court and serving the complaint and a summons on the defendant contractor officially begins a lawsuit.

A person would have to select the court in which to sue. A person may sue for up to $5,000 in damages in Small Claims Court in New Jersey. If a person seeks to recover more than $5,000 but less than $20,000, they may file their lawsuit in the Special Civil Part-Civil. Cases that involve more than $20,000 must be filed in the Law Division of the Superior Court.

How Much Does It Cost to Sue a Contractor?

This question cannot be answered with specificity. How much it would cost to sue a contractor is going to depend on a number of things. If a person hires an attorney to represent them, the cost would depend on how much the attorney charges and how much time the attorney must devote to the case before it can be resolved. That is because an attorney is likely to charge an hourly fee for their service when it comes to suing a construction contractor.

In addition, a person might need to hire an expert witness to testify in what way the contractor’s work is deficient. This would add to the cost.

As noted above, if a person is successful in their lawsuit against a contractor in a case filed pursuant to New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act, they may recover their attorney’s fees and costs as part of their damages award.

What Is the Statute of Limitations for Contract Disputes?

Under New Jersey’s Statute of Limitations, a construction-defect lawsuit must be filed within 6 years from the time that the plaintiff first knew or, through the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known that they had a cause of action.

In addition to the Statute of Limitations, New Jersey also has a Statute of Repose. The Statute of Repose continues to toll under all circumstances. In other words, its effect does not depend on when defects are discovered or any other contingency. It is a hard deadline that begins to run at the time of “substantial completion” of a construction project. After 10 years, all construction defect claims in New Jersey are barred by the Statute of Repose.

The statute of limitations for breach of contract in New Jersey is 6 years from the date of the breach that gives rise to the lawsuit.

Do I Need an Attorney for Suing a Contractor?

If you have a problem with a contractor, you want to talk to a New Jersey contract lawyer as soon as possible. LegalMatch.com can quickly connect you to an experienced contract lawyer in your area who can fully explain your options and help guide you to a fair resolution.

When it comes to suing a contractor, proving the existence of defects and their source can become technical. You want an experienced lawyer to guide you through the process of getting the remedy you deserve.

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