Law Office Of Paul DePetris
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New Jersey Home Improvement Consumer Fraud Case FAQs

INTRODUCTION
Read below to learn more about this topic.  Or, to receive a no cost phone consultation, call Mr. DePetris at 609-714-2020 or send him an email.  Warning – this article does not necessarily include every New Jersey court rule, code or law that may apply to your New Jersey case!  The Law Office of Paul DePetris does not guarantee that the statutes, rules, codes, files or forms on this website are the latest versions, that they lack typographical errors or that they have not changed, repealed or superseded by other laws.  Before taking any action, read all applicable federal and state source law and case law and consult with an attorney.  Court addresses, hours of operation and directions may change so check with the court in advance of mailing documents to court or going there!  Some of the webpages on this site don’t apply to all types of New Jersey cases, since there are different rules for different case types!


NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONSUMER FRAUD CASE FAQS


WHAT IS NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONSUMER FRAUD?
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is a powerful law that regulates New Jersey home improvement contractors that sell New Jersey home improvement services to New Jersey homeowners.   Many New Jersey homeowners are victims of New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud.  Some New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud cases involve specific violations of New Jersey home improvement regulations or New Jersey home improvement laws, while others involve less obvious types of misconduct.  A New Jersey home improvement contractor may commit New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud by violating a specific section of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act or the New Jersey Home Improvement Practices Regulations.   New Jersey Consumer Fraud in New Jersey home improvement contracts is a very serious problem, causing many New Jersey homeowners financial losses and inconvenience when they unwittingly become New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud victims.   The State of New Jersey does not have the resources to fight all New Jersey Consumer Fraud but the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act allows private New Jersey attorneys to represent homeowners and to fight for their rights against fraudulent New Jersey home improvement contractors.


HOW DOES THE NEW JERSEY CONSUMER FRAUD ACT HELP NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONSUMER FRAUD VICTIMS?
In 1960, the New Jersey Legislature passed the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act "to permit the New Jersey Attorney General to combat the increasingly widespread practice of defrauding the consumer."   The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act conferred on the New Jersey Attorney General the power to investigate New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act complaints and promulgate rules and regulations that have the force of law. In 1971, the New Jersey Legislature amended the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act to "give New Jersey one of the strongest consumer protection laws in the nation."  The New Jersey Legislature expanded the definition of "unlawful practice" to include "unconscionable commercial practices" and broadened the New Jersey Attorney General's enforcement powers. That amendment also provided for private causes of action, with an award of treble damages, attorneys' fees, and costs.  New Jersey’s government believed that those provisions would provide "easier access to the courts for the consumer, [would] increase the attractiveness of consumer actions to attorneys and [would] also help reduce the burdens on the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs."   The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act provides that:  (1) The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, use or employment by any person of any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, or the knowing, concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact with intent that others rely upon such concealment, suppression or omission, in connection with the sale * * * or with the subsequent performance of such person as aforesaid, whether or not any person has in fact been misled, deceived or damaged thereby, is declared to be an unlawful practice; (2) any person who suffers any ascertainable loss of moneys or property, real or personal, as a result of the use or employment by another person of any method, act, or practice declared unlawful under this act  * * * may bring an action * * * . In any action under this section the court shall, in addition to any other appropriate legal or equitable relief, award threefold the damages sustained by any person in interest. In all actions under this section the court shall also award reasonable attorneys' fees, filing fees and reasonable costs of suit.


New Jersey courts have emphasized that like most remedial legislation, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act should be construed liberally in favor of consumers.   Although initially designed to combat "sharp practices and dealings" that victimized consumers by luring them into purchases through fraudulent or deceptive means, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is no longer aimed solely at "shifty, fast-talking and deceptive merchant[s]" but reaches "nonsoliciting artisans" as well. Thus, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is designed to protect the public even when a merchant acts in good faith.  Moreover, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act's includes a provision authorizing consumers to bring their own private actions, which is integral to fulfilling the legislative purposes of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.  The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act is broad remedial legislation enacted for the protection of consumers of a variety of goods and services, and its history has been marked by the "constant expansion of consumer protection."  


NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT PRACTICES REGULATIONS AND THE NEW JERSEY CONTRACTORS’ REGISTRATION ACT PROTECT NEW JERSEY CONSUMERS IN NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONSUMER FRAUD CASES
To accomplish the objectives and to carry out the duties prescribed by this act, the New Jersey Attorney General, in addition to other powers conferred * * * by this act, may * * * promulgate such rules and regulations * * * as may be necessary, which shall have the force of law.  Over the years following the initial adoption of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, the New Jersey Legislature has repeatedly amended and expanded the reach of its provisions, often by adding sections to address particular areas of concern and to include them specifically within its protective sweep.   The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs has enacted extensive regulations, consistent with the foregoing authority, to deal with practices susceptible to New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act violations, such as may be found under home-improvement contracts.   A major purpose of the New Jersey Home Improvement Practices regulations is to provide "objective assurances" of the "terms and criteria according to which home-improvement work [should] be done." However, the regulations are not meant to be exhaustive, and practices not specified in the regulations may nevertheless constitute unlawful consumer fraud.  Another example of this expansion of the application of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act can be seen in the New Jersey Legislature's 2004 enactment of the New Jersey Contractor's Registration Act. That statute, and the implementing regulations promulgated thereafter, created a framework within the CFA that regulates contractors who are engaged in the business of making or selling home improvements. Although the legislative history surrounding the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act is sparse, there can be no doubt about the fact that the New Jersey Legislature regarded the home improvement industry as being greatly in need of regulation. Indeed, the seriousness with which the New Jersey Legislature approached the perceived problems in that industry is reflected both in the expansive language of the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act’s definitional reach and in the remedies that the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act authorizes.  In particular, the New Jersey Legislature made the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act applicable broadly, by defining those in the home improvement industry that would fall within its terms without regard to the type of business entity through which they operated - defining contractors to include persons operating through "corporation, partnership, association and any other form of business organization or entity" together with their "officers, representatives, agents and employees".   Similarly, the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act used sweeping language in its definition of "home improvements" so that the requirements of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act would reach an extensive variety of persons and entities involved in the home improvement business.   As a result, the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act applies to individuals and entities engaged in "remodeling, altering, renovating, repairing, restoring, modernizing, moving, demolishing, or otherwise improving or modifying of the whole or any part of any residential or non-commercial property . . . [and] shall also include insulation installation, and the conversion of existing commercial structures into residential or non-commercial property."   Apart from those expansive definitions both as to the persons or entities that are engaged in the business and as to the nature of the business of home improvements, the statutory enforcement mechanisms chosen by the New Jersey Legislature independently suggest an intention to provide strong protections to consumers. Some are regulatory in nature, for example, requiring any person or entity that falls within the definition of a home improvement contractor to register with the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and to make detailed annual disclosures that might subject it to suspension or revocation of its registration, N.J.S.A. 56:8-141.  Other provisions, however, relate either directly or indirectly to the remedies that the New Jersey Legislature intended the statute to make available to the consumer. As an example, persons or entities involved in the home improvement industry are obligated to "secure [and] maintain . . . commercial general liability insurance" in the required amount. In practice, the requirement that the contractors carry insurance does not protect consumers directly; instead the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act provides two other, powerful means of enforcement. The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act specifically makes any violation of its provisions "an unlawful practice" subject to the remedies available under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, as well as a fourth degree criminal offense.  The New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act’s identification of the New jersey Consumer Fraud Act as the New Jersey Contractors’ Registration Act’s principal civil enforcement mechanism, particularly in light of the adoption of implementing regulations that identify numerous prohibited practices such as the New Jersey Home Improvement Practices Regulations, strongly suggests that the New Jersey Legislature intended to broadly empower consumers of these services to seek relief for violations and to be made whole. The more recently enacted statute governing home improvement contractors, which was codified as an amendment to the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, similarly includes a registration provision.   In place of the warranty protections required of new home builders, however, this statute protects homeowners by requiring insurance, disclosures, and, through the implementing regulations, by specifying numerous practices that are defined to be unlawful, all specifically deemed to fall within the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and, therefore, made subject to its enforcement mechanisms and remedies.  Reading the two statutes together, the New Jersey Legislature planned to create a seamless web of protections for the homeowner. 


WHO IS LIABLE FOR NEW JERSEY CONSUMER FRAUD IN A NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONSUMER FRAUD CASE?
The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act uses the term "person," which the statute itself defines:
The term "person" as used in this act shall include any natural person or his legal representative, partnership, corporation, company, trust, business entity or association, and any agent, employee, salesman, partner, officer, director, member, stockholder, associate, trustee or cestuis que trustent thereof[.]    The New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act protects consumers who have fallen prey to three separate kinds of unlawful practices.   The language of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act specifically identifies a variety of affirmative acts, including "deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, [and] misrepresentation," and it also identifies as actionable "the knowing[] concealment, suppression or omission of any material fact," if intentional.   In addition, by referring to "unconscionable commercial practice[s]," and by authorizing the New Jersey Attorney General to promulgate regulations that shall have the force of law, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act permits claims to be based on regulatory violations.  In light of the broad remedial purposes of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the expansive sweep of the definition of "person," it is clear that an individual who commits an affirmative act or a knowing omission that the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act has made actionable can be liable individually. Although the statute would also impose liability on the individual's corporate employer for such an affirmative act, there is no basis on which to conclude that the statute meant to limit recourse to the corporation, and thereby to shield the individual from any liability in doing so.  Corporate officers and employees could be individually liable pursuant to the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act for their affirmative acts of misrepresentation to a consumer.   Individuals may be independently liable for violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, notwithstanding the fact that they were acting through a corporation at the time.  To be sure, individuals are not liable merely because of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act violation of the corporate entity. Instead, New Jersey courts focus on the New Jersey Consumer Fraud of the individual employee or corporate officer to determine whether the specific individual had engaged in conduct prohibited by the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. 


HOW DO YOU PROVE A NEW JERSEY CONSUMER FRAUD ACT VIOLATION IN A NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONSUMER FRAUD CASE?
To violate the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, a person must commit an "unlawful practice" as defined in the legislation. Unlawful practices fall into three general categories: affirmative acts, knowing omissions, and regulation violations. A practice can be unlawful even if no person was in fact misled or deceived thereby. The capacity to mislead is the prime ingredient of all types of New Jersey Consumer Fraud.  When the alleged New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act violation consists of an affirmative act, intent is not an essential element and the plaintiff need not prove that the defendant intended to commit an unlawful act. However, when the alleged New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act violation consists of an omission, the plaintiff must show that the defendant acted with knowledge, and intent is an essential element of the fraud.  In respect of what constitutes an "unconscionable commercial practice," unconscionability is "an amorphous concept obviously designed to establish a broad business ethic." The standard of conduct that the term "unconscionable" implies is lack of "good faith, honesty in fact and observance of fair dealing."   However, "a breach of warranty, or any breach of contract, is not per se unfair or unconscionable * * * and a breach of warranty alone does not violate a consumer protection statute."   Because any breach of warranty or contract is unfair to the non-breaching party, the law permits that party to recoup remedial damages in an action on the contract; however, by providing that a court should treble those damages and should award attorneys' fees and costs, the New Jersey Legislature must have intended that substantial aggravating circumstances be present in addition to the breach.   The third category of unlawful acts consists of violations of specific regulations promulgated under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. In those instances, intent is not an element of the unlawful practice, and the regulations impose strict liability for such violations. The parties subject to the regulations are assumed to be familiar with them, so that any violation of the regulations, regardless of intent or moral culpability, constitutes a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act. To establish a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act a plaintiff need not prove an unconscionable commercial practice. Rather, the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act specifies the conduct that will amount to an unlawful practice in the disjunctive, as "any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise, misrepresentation, or the knowing[] concealment, suppression, or omission of any material fact * * * ."   Proof of any one of those acts or omissions or of a violation of a regulation will be sufficient to establish unlawful conduct under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.  Any person who suffers any ascertainable loss of moneys or property, real or personal, as a result of the use or employment by another person of any method, act, or practice declared unlawful under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act may bring an action or assert a counterclaim therefor in any court of competent jurisdiction. In any action under this section the court shall, in addition to any other appropriate legal or equitable relief, award threefold the damages sustained by any person in interest. In all actions under this section the court shall also award reasonable attorneys' fees, filing fees and reasonable costs of suit.   An award of treble damages and attorneys' fees is mandatory under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act if a New Jersey Consumer Fraud claimant proves both an unlawful practice under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and an ascertainable loss. The use of the word "shall" in the statute suggests as much. Moreover, the legislative history indicates that the provision for attorneys' fees was intended to impose on the defendant in a private action "a greater financial penalty [than in an action brought by the New Jersey Attorney General] and * * * [to ensure] that the financial cost to the private plaintiff was minimized and compensation maximized."   In limited cases, a New Jersey Consumer Fraud claimant can recover reasonable attorneys' fees, filing fees, and costs if that plaintiff can prove that the defendant committed an unlawful practice, even if the New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud victim cannot show any ascertainable loss and thus cannot recover treble damages. The fundamental remedial purpose of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act dictates that plaintiffs should be able to pursue New Jersey Home Improvement Consumer Fraud cases without experiencing financial hardship.  


WHAT PENALTIES DO NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONTRACTORS FACE IF THEY VIOLATE THE NEW JERSEY CONSUMER FRAUD ACT?
If a New Jersey homeowner is a victim of New Jersey home improvement fraud which also constitutes a New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act violation, the New Jersey homeowner may be entitled to the following types of relief:
Cancellation of fraudulent debts.
Treble damages for ascertainable loss of money or property caused by the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act Violation.
Attorney’s fee award for prosecuting the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act Violation or defending against lawsuits by contractors to collect a fraudulent debt.
Refund of money lost due to the New Jersey home improvement contractor’s New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act Violation.


HOW DO I RECOVER DAMAGES UNDER THE NEW JERSEY CONSUMER FRAUD ACT FOR NEW JERSEY HOME IMPROVEMENT FRAUD?
A New Jersey homeowner or customer who is able to prove that a New Jersey home improvement contractor, New Jersey home improvement contractor or the seller of New Jersey home improvement services committed a violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act which directly cause of the New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud victim to suffer an ascertainable loss of money or property is entitled to receive an award of triple damages, attorney’s fees and litigation costs.  In certain situations, a New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud victim may also be entitled to a refund or to cancel a New Jersey fraudulent debt.  However, under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, a New Jersey home improvement consumer fraud victim is not entitled to recover pain and suffering damages.  


WHAT HAPPENS IF A NEW JEREY HOME IMPROVEMENT CONTRACTOR TRIES TO COLLECT A FRAUDUENT HOME REPAIR BILL?
If a New Jersey homeowner is a victim of New Jersey Consumer Fraud, the New Jersey home improvement bill may be uncollectible or void.   Consult with a New Jersey lawyer to find out if you qualify for that type of relief against a New Jersey home improvement contractor.  
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