FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A common legal issue presented to the Legal Assistance Office involves home improvement contracts gone awry. The contractor starts the job and never finishes. Often the contractor never starts but has already received full payment. Or, the finished product is simply not satisfactory. In any situation, the resolution of these issues will often require a lawsuit.

Lawsuits can be expensive, time consuming and at the end of the day your home or landscaping go unfinished for months before the legal issues are resolved. Therefore, this article will explore the actions you can take as a consumer to avoid litigation and receive the finished product for which you have contracted.

Most general home improvement contractors are not licensed, so take that badge of honor with caution. Only work over $30,000 requires the contractor to have a contractor's license in the State of North Carolina. And, if your project is not in excess of that amount, even if they have the license, you will not be able to seek out the licensure board's assistance. You can contact the licensure board at www.nclbgc.net/consinfo_fr.html or (919) 571-4183.

If your contractor says they are bonded ask them to provide information on who furnished the bond. Typically, the bond is associated with the license, which doesn't apply if you don't meet the threshold amount.

Do look for contractors who are insured, especially if they are performing roofing, painting, or tree removal ask for the policy number and insurer. Understand that insurance typically only covers negligent damage like dropping the tree on your house, not shoddy workmanship. Also, ask if their workers are employees or subcontractors and if they have proper insurance if they are injured on the job.

Those who do good work are referred by others. Talk with your neighbors if they have had similar work done and see if they would recommend the contractor. Read reviews online. Good businesses are often registered with the Better Business Bureau. Businesses registered with the BBB typically respond to complaints. Review the BBB profile and determine whether the company has a good rating and what kind of issues they've had complaints on.

You can also call the North Carolina Attorney General's Office at (877) 5-NO-SCAM, and obtain information on past complaints. You should also contact the Armed Forces Disciplinary Control Board to determine whether a contractor has complaints from other military Families. Even after you've done your best research, don't settle on the first contractor you can get an estimate from. Obtaining two or three estimates is ideal.

Because obtaining multiple estimates is ideal, you will need to compare the estimates to understand what the price variations are detailing. You need to know if you are truly comparing apples to apples and whether one contractor is simply less expensive than the other. If the price of materials creates the difference of cost, you need to find out what type of materials the contractors are using. At the end of the day, a good contractor will have a thorough written estimate because this information will ultimately be transferred to your written contract.

When dealing with home contractors you must start from the point of 'how would I prove this in court'' If you are having double-pane windows installed in your home and paying a premium for that, it is imperative that the contract specifically shows double-pane windows, with the brand, size, and any other special condition you wish to enforce. The contract needs to detail all the work to be done.

Make sure it spells out the quality, type and brand of materials to be used, total price for labor and materials and any warranties or guarantees. It should also include the start and finish dates and who will be responsible for clean-up and trash removal. There should also be a date that the quote will expire and something saying the materials price is good through acceptance of the quote.

Even if you have employed the preventative measures discussed, unfortunately, not every person who purports to be a home improvement contractor is skilled, experienced, and qualified for the project that you may have in mind. Unless your contractor falls into a category of work requiring a license, your ability to enforce the contract is limited to filing complaints with the BBB, AFDCB, AG's office and filing a lawsuit against the contractor. However, if you have taken the steps above, you should have a strong case. Be careful in engaging in self-help through nonpayment, as establishing a construction lien in North Carolina is not difficult and will inhibit your ability to sell your home. Be sure to discuss your options with a North Carolina licensed attorney before taking this step.

If you have questions, please contact the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Legal Assistance Office. The office is located in Building 2-1133 at the corner of Macomb and Armistead streets. The Legal Assistance Office is open Monday, Tuesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Wednesday from 1 p.m to 4:30 p.m., and on Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Appointments are made one week in advance. The Office begins scheduling appointments at 9 a.m. on the last day of each week for the following week. You can schedule an appointment in person or by calling 396-6113 or 396-0396. More information is available at the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Legal Assistance Office website located at www.bragg.army.mil/SJA/LAO.htm.

Page last updated Fri September 24th, 2010 at 14:34