Out of all of the criminal offenses on the books in Pennsylvania, the white-collar crime of fraud is perhaps the most complicated. There are so many ways that fraud can happen, and because fraud requires an intentional misrepresentation, mistakes or miscommunications can quickly lead to allegations of criminal conduct.
Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than with the crime of home improvement fraud.
What is Home Improvement Fraud?
Home improvement fraud is covered by 73 P.S. § 517 et seq. It forbids intentionally defrauding someone by:
- Misleading someone into an agreement for home improvement services or to pay more for agreed-upon services
- Getting paid and then not performing the work or supplying the materials
- Damaging their property in order to offer to fix it, for a price
- Misrepresenting how expensive building materials are, in order to charge more for parts
- Altering or forging a home improvement contract
Violations are serious. When more than $2,000 is at issue, it is a third-degree felony and carries fines of up to $15,000 and between 3.5 and 7 years in jail. When less than $2,000 is at issue, it is a first-degree misdemeanor, carrying up to $10,000 in fines and 2.5 to 5 years in jail.
The Problem With Home Improvement Fraud: Mistakes Happen
Unfortunately, home improvement projects are not always simple and straightforward. Complications arise, unforeseen circumstances become apparent, and projects get far more complex, very quickly. These complications can quickly raise the cost of a project or make it apparent to the contractor that their proposed solution will not actually fix everything.
To the consumer, this can make it seem as if they have been defrauded. They paid to have a professional come into their home and fix something, a price was agreed to, and now the condition still exists or the contractor wants more.
To the contractor, on the other hand, there is very little that they can do about it. Even the most experienced contractors misdiagnose housing problems or fail to realize how much it is going to cost to fix them.
The crucial factor, of course, is the intent to defraud. Consumers insist that it exists, while contractors know that it did not.
Case in Point: The Case of Union Roofing
An ongoing example of this is a Philadelphia roofing company, Union Roofing. A recent consumer protection expose uncovered a handful of complaints about the company, including a pair of recent ones where homeowners claimed that the company took money to fix roof leaks, but the leaks persisted.
The roofing company claimed that their roofs were watertight and that the leaks came from other walls that also needed to be replaced. The customers, however, only paid to fix the roofs.
The complaining homeowners all insist that the roofing company was defrauding them. The roofing company is arguing that it had every intention to fix the problem.