Wisconsin’s home improvement consumer protection laws were created under the purview of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (ATCP). The laws were created for a noble purpose: to protect residential property owners from a certain category of unscrupulous contractors. ATCP warns consumers to “beware of transients” as “these rip-off artists will probably hit your town.” Whether transient or not, it is clear that the ATCP wants contractors to be properly certified and insured to perform general construction work, such as siding, insulation and roofing on homes. These are things that reputable contractors have no trouble providing, and established contractors will agree that it’s in everyone’s best interest to weed out transient rip-off artists.
However, given the number of requirements, even established, reputable and well-intentioned contractors can find themselves in violation of the ATCP. This is especially true with respect to home improvement contract requirements. Per ATCP 110.05, any contract requiring payment of money or other consideration by the homeowner prior to completion of work must be in writing, so must contracts which are initiated by through face-to-face, telephone, mail, or flyer solicitation. Once a written contract is required (and in most instances, it will be), it must be provided to the homeowner (or “buyer” as defined under the ATCP).
Where a written contract is required, it must be signed by all parties and “shall clearly, accurately and legibly set forth all material terms and conditions of the contract.”
The ATPC also has a specific list of items that must be included in the home improvement contract. These are: 1) the seller’s name and address (and the name and address of any general contractor other than the seller); 2) a description of the work to be done and the principal products and materials to be used; 3) the total price, including finance charges; 4) the start and completion dates; 5) a description of any mortgage or security interest taken in connection with the financing or sale of the home improvement; 6) a statement of any warranty; 7) an identification of any other document that is incorporated into the contract; and 8) terms and conditions of any insurance coverage provided.
It is not uncommon for one or more of these items to be missing from a contract. If a dispute then arises with the homeowner, a contractor can find itself in a lawsuit facing very stiff penalties, including double damages and attorney’s fees. Even more concerning is that the officers, owners and even employees of the company can be held individually liable.
Because of this it is incredibly important that contractors who are subject to the ATPC follow all requirements. The requirements under the ATPC are far more exhaustive than what is stated in this article. It is therefore recommended that if you are a contractor performing residential work in Wisconsin, that you have a competent construction attorney review the contracts you use to ensure you are following the requirements of the ATPC, and to help create a checklist to provide to employees and sales representatives so that they are following the non-contractual requirements as well.
If you are a Wisconsin residential contractor, contact Smith Jadin Johnson to help ensure you can avoid an ATPC violation.