Monday, March 27, 2017

Hey, It's Long Since Past Time For This . . .

Following an Asbury Park Press report highlighting the severe difficulties some victims of Superstorm Sandy have faced when dealing with home contractors, New Jersey State Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) renewed her call for the New Jersey Senate to pass S-532, the “Superstorm Sandy Homeowners Protection Act.” Since the bill was introduced, Beck has made five written requests to legislative leaders, and more by email and in person, for the bill to advance.

Sen. Jennifer Beck’s “Superstorm Sandy Homeowners Protection Act” has awaited action by the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee since June 16, 2016. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)
Beck, the sponsor of the legislation, has prepared new letters to Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo requesting that a hearing be scheduled for S-532.

The “Superstorm Sandy Homeowners Protection Act” would allow the Department of Community Affairs to bar contractors who commit fraud from working in New Jersey and strip them of their licenses. It also would allow the Attorney General to sue on behalf of homeowners for negligence, when they currently can only act in criminal cases. Additionally, in instances where a homeowner was approved for a grant by the State and has made commitments based on that approval, S-532 requires the State to fund the grant even if they later realize the approval was issued in error.

“We’ve heard too many stories of predatory contractors walking away from unfinished Sandy recovery projects after getting paid, and of the State doing little to address complaints or prevent others from becoming new victims,” said Beck. “Sadly, the stories detailed by the Asbury Park Press mirror dozens of others that I’ve heard at the many public and private meetings I’ve held to provide assistance to Sandy victims. The ‘Superstorm Sandy Homeowners Protection Act’ was written based on my work with Sandy victims to prevent further harm, and to hold recovery contractors accountable for their work. I’m hopeful that we can continue working on a bipartisan basis in the New Jersey Senate to move these important protections forward.”

The legislation was first introduced in 2015 in response to growing complaints that contractors and home lifters were leaving jobs unfinished and walking away with tens of thousands of dollars of Sandy recovery grants and often more from homeowners’ own pockets.

Although the bill was advanced from the Senate Community Urban Affairs Committee on June 16, 2016 with unanimous bipartisan support, it has not advanced from the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee where it is currently awaiting a hearing. Beck’s letter urges Budget Committee Chairman Sarlo to schedule that hearing, which is necessary for the bill to advance.

“For many families, the devastation caused by Sandy has become secondary to the extreme hardships caused by the contractors who were trusted with victims’ homes,” said Beck. “Those families need a process that allows them to recover both grant funds and their own personal money from contractors who were paid, but never did the work. That shortcoming in state law is what the ‘Superstorm Sandy Homeowners Protection Act’ would fix. It’s time to get the bill moving again.”

The “Superstorm Sandy Homeowners Protection Act” narrowly extends the protections of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act to homeowners who have received a RREM or LMI grant. More specifically, the act allows the state to take action against contractors who violate the State Uniform Construction Code Act.

Due to a confidential reporting process established under the act, homeowners would no longer have to fear retribution from a builder. The DCA would establish a confidential method for reporting complaints, and the DCA and Project Managers would be required to forward these complaints to the proper authorities.

Other potential customers would then be able to view anonymized complaints against contractors online when deciding who to hire to work on their own homes.

Further, the legislation provides the DCA Commissioner with the authority to permanently debar a builder from construction work in New Jersey if the builder willfully commits fraud, completes work in a grossly negligent manner, or willfully violates the State Uniform Construction Code Act, despite a reasonable opportunity to correct.

“These are aggressive steps that I’ve proposed, but they’re warranted because contractors continue to prey on victims of the worst natural disaster in New Jersey history,” added Beck. “With a recovery process that has been so long and difficult, we should make every effort to prevent politics from getting in the way of helping families return to their homes. I’m more than willing to work with any legislator who wants to help victims of Sandy contractor fraud get the justice they deserve. I urge all of my colleagues in the Legislature to support and join in this important effort.”

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