Legal Hotline: Contractor Ads
Legal Hotline: Contractor Ads
Q: A reader called to complain about a contractor ad that appeared in our paper. The ad did not contain a contractor registration number, and the reader was unhappy with the work performed. Does my newspaper have liability for ads that do not contain a contractor registration number, and what should we do when we receive complaints like this?
A: The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act does not require newspapers to determine if a contractor must be registered under the law, and newspapers are not liable for ads that do not contain a contractor registration number. With that being said, some newspapers have adopted a policy that requires home improvement contractor ads to include a registration number as a reader protection policy.
The Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, 53 P.S. § 517.1, et seq., applies to contractors who perform at least $5,000 worth of home improvement work in a year. The law requires contractors to submit an application to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office in order to obtain a registration number. The registration number must appear in all advertisements circulated within the Commonwealth. The law defines advertisements as “any statement promoting home improvement services in a newspaper, periodical, pamphlet, circular, billboard, sign, letterhead, business card or other printed materials.” The law allows consumers to verify a contractor’s registration with Attorney General’s Office by visiting the Attorney General’s website or by calling the toll-free contractor hotline, 1-888-520-6680. The Attorney General’s Office is advising consumers to avoid home improvement contractors who have not registered.
The law does not require newspapers to determine if a contractor must comply with the law; it places the duty to comply on the contractors themselves. Newspapers can accept ads that do not contain registration numbers, but, in light of the consumer protection aspect of the law, some newspapers have implemented a policy that requires registration numbers, although as stated above, this is not required by law.
Note: Some contractor advertisers have reported the process for obtaining or renewing a registration under the Home Improvement Law is delayed due to the COVID-19 disaster declaration. Some contractors interested in running ads while a renewal or registration is pending have noted in the ad that HIC registration or renewal is pending with the Attorney General’s Office. It is not clear if such a notice would provide the contractor a defense under the Act, but from a consumer protection standpoint, it could provide an indication of good faith to readers.
Newspapers should be careful to not give legal advice to advertisers, readers or others. Individuals with concerns or questions about the law should be referred to the Attorney General’s Office, Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555 or https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/Consumers/Bureau_of_Consumer_Protection/
As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Please call your newspaper’s attorney or the Legal Hotline with questions (717) 703-3080.