Citing complaints against bad contractors as one of the most frequent consumer complaints filed with his Office, legislation filed at the request of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin that would hold unlicensed and bad contractors accountable is scheduled to be heard by the House Committee on Judiciary today (Wednesday, March 02, 2016).
One bill, H7403, sponsored by Representative Joseph J. Solomon, Jr. (D - District 22, Warwick) would require that an applicant for any license or registration issued by the Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board (“CRB”) must undergo a national criminal records check that shall include fingerprints submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Identification of the Office of Attorney General.
If the national criminal records check produced disqualifying information, the applicant can provide a copy of the check to the CRB’s Executive Director who shall make a final determination regarding the issuance of a license or registration.
“Providing a licensing and registration requirement of a national criminal records check helps to ensure the physical and financial safety of consumers using the services of contractors,” said Attorney General Kilmartin. “Due to the nature of the business relationship between consumers and contractors, these licensees have intimate access into consumers’ property, and consumers must rely heavily on the assertions made by these licensees in contracting. It is in the best interest of Rhode Island consumers that the CRB be able to consider whether a potential licensee has had a conviction of serious physical violence, a financial crime, or a property crime before granting a license or registration.”
“This bill is another way to protect the consumer,” said Representative Solomon. “An FBI check of prospective licensees means that we’ll be able to ensure that those contractors doing business in Rhode Island are legitimate and neither a physical or financial threat to consumers.”
A companion bill is sponsored in the state senate by Senator Frank Lombardo, III (D – District 25, Johnston).
“This legislation is important because contractors are often let into people’s homes and there is always an element of trust when hiring a contractor,” said Sen. Frank Lombardo III. “People need to know that their homes and valuables are safe when they employ contractors and this legislation will ensure that.”
A second piece of legislation, H7402, sponsored by Representative Dennis M. Canario (D - District 71, Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton), would increase penalties for contractors who fail to comply with a final order of the CRB.
Specifically, the legislation would provide that any person who violates a final order of the CRB where the monetary total of the order is less than $5,000, upon proper written notification, would be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year, fined not more than $1,000, or both. Where the monetary total of the order is $5,000 or greater, upon written notification, those in violation would be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding 10 years, fined not more than $10,000, or both. The imprisonment time for those persons found to be a repeat offender would be increased from up to five years to up to 10 years.
When a licensee violates a final order of the CRB, that case is referred to the Office of Attorney General for criminal prosecution. In the prosecution of violation of the final order, the Court may sentence the defendant to the monetary judgment the CRB ordered in its final order. The monetary judgment includes both restitution to the victims and moneys owed to the CRB. Since these offenses are now considered misdemeanors, the defendant generally has only one year to pay the restitution amount, and this is not an adequate period of time in certain circumstances, especially if the final order is of a significant amount.
“The current state of the law results in the victim of these crimes being left unwhole, and this legislation would finally put some teeth in the CRB’s and my Office’s ability to hold those who do shoddy work and who take advantage of homeowners accountable and get resolution for the consumer,” said Attorney General Kilmartin.
“Contractors whose work is not satisfactory need to be held accountable for their illegal actions. From consumer protection or safety standpoints, there needs to be delineations between the severity of penalties,” said Rep. Dennis M. Canario. “This legislation ensures that the appropriate repercussions are levied against bad contractors.”
Prior to 2013, the State could file a violation of the defendant’s probation and/or suspended sentence based on the fact that they would not be able to complete their payment of the final order before the completion of their sentence. The sentencing of the defendant’s probation violation would be stayed until the completion of their payment of the final order. However, in 2013, the Rhode Island Supreme Court held that stayed sentences were not authorized by statute and therefore unlawful. Since then, defendants can complete their sentence without complying with the financial judgments ordered by the CRB, the Court, and owed to their victims. By making these crimes felonies subject to up to 10 years imprisonment when the amount of the final order exceeds $5,000, it allows the defendant more time to pay the restitution amount and ensures that victims receive the moneys owed to them.
This act also add certain professions, specifically, home inspectors, underground utility contractors, well drilling contractors, and roofing contractors, to the list of professions required to register with the CRB.
Specifically, in addition to the penalties discussed above, any person who operates without a license or registration, upon proper written notification, is deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year, or fined not more than $1,000 for a first and second offenses. On third and subsequent offenses, the contractor would be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction, imprisoned for a term not exceeding two years or fined not more than $2,000, or both.
A companion bill is sponsored in the state senate by Senator Michael J. McCaffrey (D – District 29, Warwick).
“It is extremely frustrating for homeowners who deal with contractors who take advantage of them,” said Senator McCaffrey. “Increasing penalties for contractors who fail to comply with a final order of the Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board would provide some statutory strength to the board and the attorney general’s office.”
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