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Educational Consumer Tips

Home Improvements

Author: Better Business Bureau
Published:

Are you considering hiring a home improvement/remodeling contractor? The following items are some important things for you to know.

Licensing Requirements

Contractors in Wisconsin are not necessarily required to have a license. However, you can check for certain licensing with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. To search for a company’s credentials with the Department of Commerce, go to http://apps2.commerce.wi.gov/SB_Credential/SB_CredentialApp/SearchById

Required Permits

A contractor must inform you, before you enter into a contract, of all the required building or construction permits.

Contractors can pull these permits for you, but it is not required. If the contractor asks you to pull your own building permits, you have no assurance that the contractor is properly licensed or insured, which may make you ultimately liable for any property damage, injuries or code violations.

If the contractor pulls the required permits, he/she must have two certifications that are required by the state of Wisconsin: 1) Dwelling contractor certification (assigned to the business); and 2) Dwelling contractor qualifier (assigned to an employee). In addition, contractors also must be registered with the Division of Safety and Buildings, and show proof that they have paid for worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, and minimum levels of liability or a bond. The liability insurance covers worker and public injuries and damage to property.

Please note that if a homeowner pulls the required permits, he/she will be required to sign a waiver that states the homeowner may be held liable for bodily injury, death or property damage, and the homeowner may not be able to collect damages from the contractor if the contractor violates any codes or ordinances.

Certificate of Insurance

To protect yourself, ask the contractor for a certificate of insurance with your name and address listed as a certificate holder. This certificate shows that the contractor has an active policy. As a certificate holder, you will then be informed if the contractor’s insurance policy expires. Wisconsin Consumer Protection laws require that contractors be bonded or insured to protect homeowners against property damage or dwelling code violations caused by the contractor.

Lien Waivers

Under Wisconsin law, a building contractor must present a homeowner with a lien waiver at the very start of a project. It’s basically a document that shows the contractor and subcontractors involved in doing work on a home have been paid for goods and/or services provided. Without it, a homeowner could potentially run into a big nightmare. For example, if a homeowner pays a contractor to do work, but the contractor never pays his sub-contractors, the sub-contractors could, in turn, go after the homeowner for the money they are owed.  

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is working jointly with the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to help educate both consumers and contractors about licensing requirements. For more information and consumer tips from DATCP, go to http://datcp.state.wi.us/cp/consumerinfo/cp/top-complaints/home_improvement.jsp