In a major win for consumers who were left financially unwhole by bad or unlicensed contractors, the General Assembly today passed legislation (H7443/S2607) filed at the request of Attorney General Kilmartin that distinguishes penalties for licensed contractors convicted of failing to comply with final orders issued by the Contractors' Registration and License Board (CRLB) based on the amount of the monetary judgment included in the final order and imposes penalties for contractors operating without proper licenses or registration.
"The number one consumer complaint filed with our office is against contractors who do shoddy work, or worse, fail to do the work at all," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Until now, our hands – and the hands of the CRLB – were tied because there was no legal avenue to hold these bad contractors accountable once the criminal sentence expired. This act gives our Office and the CRLB much needed tools to protect homeowners and ensure that all contractors are playing by the rules. This is a great win for consumers."
Filed by Representative Dennis M. Canario (D – District 71, Little Compton, Portsmouth, Tiverton) and Senator Paul W. Fogarty (D – District 23, Burrillville, Glocester, North Smithfield), the legislation amends RIGL Section 5-65-19 ("penalty for operating without a registration – failure to comply with a final order of the board – repeat offense a felony") to provide that any person who violates a final order of the CRLB where the monetary total of the order including, but not limited to, the monetary judgment and/or fines, is not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), upon proper written notification, is deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year, fined not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both.
Where the monetary total of the order is five thousand dollars ($5,000) or more, upon written notification, is deemed guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding ten (10) years, fined not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or both. The imprisonment time for those persons found to be a repeat offender would be increased from up to five (5) years to up to ten (10) years.
"Negligent and bad contractors not only waste consumers' money, but there are also significant safety concerns that can arise with inferior or substandard contractor work. This bill will protect consumers' wallets and health while also holding bad contractors responsible for their actions," said Representative Canario.
"The public must have a real means to defend against fraudulent or shabby contractors. Today we are putting some teeth in the law to ensure that people get the restitution they deserve and to send a clear message to those who would fleece the public that they will be held accountable," said Senator Paul W. Fogarty.
Moreover, the legislation amends sections 5-65.1-13 ('violations – penalties"), 5-65.3-17 ("penalties for violations"), 5-65.2-5 ("penalties for violations"), and 5-73-5 ("penalties for violations") provide that all licensees under the jurisdiction of the CRB, specifically, home inspectors, underground utility contractors, well drilling contractors, pump installers, water-filtration contractors, and roofing contractors, are subject to the same penalties as those contractors registered under section 5-65-19.
In addition, to the penalties discussed above, any person who operates without a license or registration, upon proper written notification, is deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year, or fined not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) for a first and second offenses. On third and subsequent offenses, the contractor would be guilty of a felony, and, upon conviction, imprisoned for a term not exceeding two (2) years or fined not more than two thousand dollars ($2,000), or both.
When a licensee violates a final order of the CRLB, the case is referred to the Office of Attorney General for criminal prosecution. In the prosecution of violation of the final order, the Court may sentence the defendant to the monetary judgment the CRLB ordered in its final order.
The monetary judgment includes both restitution to their victims and monies owed to the CRLB. Until passage of Attorney General Kilmartin's legislation, the offenses, no matter the amount owed by the contractor, were considered misdemeanors, whereas the defendant generally had only one year to pay the restitution amount. Often, this was not an adequate period of time in certain circumstances, especially if the final order is of a significant amount. Neither the Attorney General's Office nor the CRLB had the ability to stay the sentence pending full restitution, leaving victims unwhole.
By making these crimes felonies subject to up to 10 years imprisonment when the amount of the final order exceeds $5,000, it allows the defendant more time to pay the restitution amount and ensures that victims receive the moneys owed to them.