Troubleshooters Prompt Action to Protect Consumers: Testing Home Improvement Contractor System

When the Troubleshooters tested the system, we uncovered major flaws.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Beware if you ever plan on hiring a home improvement contractor.

Pennsylvania consumers are encouraged to verify that a contractor is registered with the state. But the Troubleshooters have tested the registration system and uncovered major deficiencies. Read on as we highlight those issues through the lens of multiple consumers who all hired the same contractor.

"I just want no one else to have to go through this," said Lisa Triolo of Perkasie, Bucks County.

"I just don't want it to happen to anybody else," said Matt Snyder of Northeast Philadelphia.

That's what Triolo and Snyder told the Troubleshooters after their experiences with a contractor named Ray Cedar. They say he didn't do quality work.

Jess DeMarco of Westampton, Burlington County said in 2016, Cedar didn't do any work at all in her case.

"I don't want him to ever do it to anyone else again," said DeMarco.

Cedar currently operates under the name PA-Concrete Works, which is based in Philadelphia. That was the business name on Matt Snyder's contract.

In 2020, Triolo hired him when he was using the name Concrete Solutions.

In 2016, Jess DeMarco knew him as Cement Doctors.

When the Troubleshooters first asked Cedar questions about his business in 2016, he got into his vehicle and drove away without saying a word.

Two years later, in 2018, Cedar pleaded guilty to the DeMarco case in criminal court.

Triolo wishes she had known about that criminal history and says if she had been aware of that information, she would "absolutely not" have hired him.

Triolo herself ended up taking Cedar to civil court.

"We won the judgment against him," Triolo said.

Snyder did not know about either case and hired Cedar nine months after the judgment in the Triolo case was handed down.

"Doesn't seem like a lot has changed," he said.

Cedar completed Snyder's job, but Snyder says he's disappointed cracks appeared in the cement after just a couple of months.

Cedar told the Troubleshooters he did everything properly and defended his work.

But Triolo says, "It's just a shame that this continues to happen to other people."

To protect consumers from this kind of situation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania created a contractor registration system under the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act. By law, contractors must register and provide their criminal history, civil judgments, bankruptcies, and previous business names.

When the Troubleshooters tested the system, we uncovered major flaws. While the state has important information, it isn't sharing all of it with consumers.

For instance, we looked up the registration for PA-Concrete Works, which is Cedar's current business. The database only shows the business name, home improvement contractor registration number and expiration date, address, and phone number. It does not provide owner names or any background information.

Those are details that consumers need to make sound hiring decisions. And the Troubleshooters found you can't get that information by phone either.

The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General maintains the home improvement contractor registration system. When the Troubleshooters reached out with its findings, it thanked us for bringing these issues to its attention and said its website is being improved to be "more user-friendly in terms of searching and identifying contractors."

The office also told us it talked to staff and was "assured that the information contractors list in their registration application is made available to consumers by phone who call our office."

In addition, it said consumers can get business reports by emailing HIC@attorneygeneral.gov.

The Troubleshooters did email for Cedar's report but never got any response.

So the Troubleshooters tested the system with a second round of calls.

We asked for any information on civil judgments, bankruptcies and criminal history. But two different phones representatives told us, again, that they could not disclose that information.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office responded to our second test by saying, "We did not follow our own protocols to provide contractor information, and we can do better. We will continue to strive to do our best to assist consumers..."

Triolo told us, "They're failing in that department with communicating to consumers... It's horrible. It's absolutely horrible that it's not readily available."

And the issues don't end there. The Troubleshooters found another problem with the registration database.

You can't search online by a contractor's name. And that's an important search method since, as evidenced by the case of Ray Cedar, contractors can and often do change their business names.

"It makes me very mad," said Triolo.

Then the Troubleshooters discovered yet another issue when we received Cedar's business report from the Attorney General's Press Office. The report isn't accurate.

It does not show Cedar's criminal offense related to home improvement nor does it show the list of civil judgments against him, including Triolo's. It also does not show his prior business names.

The Troubleshooters alerted the Attorney General's Office to the inaccuracies on Cedar's report repeatedly, but at last check, it still hasn't been fully fixed.

Cedar claims he filled out the registration form as required. But Triolo told the Troubleshooters, "I think it needs to be updated," she said, "so you know what you're getting into."

When we asked the Attorney General's Office about Cedar's business report, it said, "Unfortunately, due to the way the law was written, contractors have to disclose this information upfront. Too many do not, and we find discrepancies all too often. There are major flaws in the law, and we need the legislature to take action to ensure bad actors aren't taking advantage of PA consumers."

The Troubleshooters will be taking the issue to legislators and will keep you updated on any possible changes to the system.

Meantime, from the Troubleshooters' test, we've determined the best way to try to get the information you need is to call 1-888-520-6680. Our second round of calls did show that a phone representative will now at least search for a contractor by name.

Full Statement from Pennsylvania Attorney General's office:

"Our office consistently stands up for consumers, but the laws on the books in this Commonwealth often limit our ability to do so. The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act should be as sophisticated as the scammers who take advantage of it, and our office supports reforms to modernize this law and address its current shortcomings.

We try to provide high public service, and in this case, we did not follow our own protocols to provide contractor information, and we can do better. We will continue to strive to do our best to assist consumers when making these crucial, costly decisions and provide them the most accurate information available to assist.

It is important that consumers know that not only should they reach out to us to obtain contractor registration information, they should do their own research as well. If anyone has concerns about the accuracy of a contractor's registration or is taken advantage of by a contractor, they should file a complaint with our office."

Unfortunately, due to the way the law was written, contractors have to disclose this information upfront. Too many do not, and we find discrepancies all too often. There are major flaws in the law, and we need the legislature to take action to ensure bad actors aren't taking advantage of PA consumers."


Updated Statement from Pennsylvania Attorney General as of Wednesday at 5:33p.m.

"What you experienced is unacceptable, our policy is to provide the information we are allowed to disclose to consumers regardless of how they contact our office.

As a result of your inquiry, we are in the process of retraining our staff on how to handle these types consumer inquiries and provide the information we have, allowing people to make informed decisions about home contractors."

Links



Pennsylvania
What are my rights?
Cuales son mis derechos
Changes to the law affect consumers & contractors

New Jersey
Hiring Home Improvement contractors
Home Improvement Contractor: FAQs

Delaware
Contractor Registration Act
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