How to File a Complaint FAQs - Home Improvement Commission
- How do I file a complaint?
- How do I check a contractor’s complaint history? How far back can I search for complaints?
- What information do I include with my complaint?
- Where do I send the complaint?
- What happens after I file a complaint?
- Does the contractor receive a copy of the complaint?
- What happens if the contractor does not respond to the complaint?
- What happens if the contractor does respond to the complaint?
- How long does an investigation take?
- Will an investigator come to my house?
- What is the purpose of an investigation?
- What happens if MHIC does not pursue regulatory charges based on my complaint?
- What happens if MHIC files regulatory charges based on my complaint?
- If there is a hearing based upon my complaint, do I need to appear at the hearing?
- What is the mediation program?
- Are complaints part of the public record?
- How do I benefit from filing a complaint?
- How can I contact my investigator?
- Which complaints are a priority for MHIC?
- Can MHIC force the contractor to come to my house to fix my problems?
1. How do I file a complaint?
The first step in the complaint process is to complete and sign a written complaint form. Complaint forms are available online, or by visiting the Commission. You may also call the Commission at 410-230-6309 or 1-888-218-5925 to request that a complaint form be mailed to you.
2. How do I check a contractor’s complaint history? How far back can I search for complaints?
Anyone may check a contractor's complaint history by calling the Home Improvement Commission, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., at the following telephone numbers: 1-888-218-5925 (toll free) or 410-230-6309 (Baltimore area), or by sending an e-mail to DLOPLMHIC-DLLR@maryland.gov. Complaints filed within the last three fiscal years are reportable to the public within 30 days of being filed. Certain complaints that are determined to lack merit are not reportable to the public.
3. What information do I include with my complaint?
In addition to the specific information requested on the complaint form, you should attach a copy of the contract (front and back of all pages) and proof of payment to the contractor, such as copies of both sides of each check. In addition, please include any e-mails or other correspondence between you and the contractor. You may also include pictures or other evidence of the contractor's workmanship. If you hired an expert or engineer to evaluate the contractor's work, you can include a copy of the inspection report. Please make sure to fill out the complaint form completely and to sign it. You should also keep an original copy of all documents that you plan to send to the Commission. Please include three copies of the complaint form and each attachment to the Commission.
4. Where do I send the complaint?
You may mail or hand-deliver the complaint to MHIC, 500 N. Calvert Street, Room 306, Baltimore, MD 21202. Faxed or e-mailed copies of complaints are not accepted at this time.
5. What happens after I file a complaint?
After MHIC receives your complaint, a complaint secretary reviews your complaint to make sure that MHIC has jurisdiction over the complaint, assigns a complaint number and sets up a complaint file. The parties' contact information is put in the database and the contractor's license information and complaint history is added to the complaint file. In a week or two, you will receive a letter from MHIC confirming receipt of your complaint.
6. Does the contractor receive a copy of the complaint?
After the complaint is reviewed by an MHIC team member, the contractor is sent a copy of the complaint along with a Notice of Complaint/Order to Respond. The homeowner also receives a copy of the Notice of Complaint/Order to Respond. This document notifies the contractor of the complaint and requests a written response to the complaint within 14 days. In addition to responding to the specific allegations contained in the complaint, the contractor is required to provide a copy of all permits and inspections for the job, a certificate of liability insurance, and other documents related to the home improvement job. In the response, the contractor also is instructed to indicate if she or he wishes to participate in the MHIC mediation program.
7. What happens if the contractor does not respond to the complaint?
If the contractor does not respond to the Notice of Complaint, the Commission may schedule a show cause hearing before a Hearing Board. At a show cause hearing, the contractor must appear and explain to the Commission the failure to respond. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Board may take disciplinary action against the contractor, such as suspending the contractor's MHIC license or fining the contractor up to $5,000, if it finds that the contractor violated the Home Improvement Law by failing to respond in writing to the complaint. The homeowner is not required to appear at the show cause hearing. However, the hearing is public so the homeowner has a right to attend. Homeowners who do attend the show cause hearing do not have an opportunity to speak to the Hearing Board. Show cause hearings are held before a Hearing Board of the Commission on the first Thursday of every other month.
8. What happens if the contractor does respond to the complaint?
Once the contractor responds in writing to the complaint, then an MHIC investigator begins an investigation. The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether there is enough evidence to support a charge that the contractor violated the Home Improvement Law or regulations. The investigator may also attempt to have the parties resolve the dispute either informally or by participating in MHIC's formal mediation program.
9. How long does an investigation take?
The Commission's goal is to complete each investigation within 60 days of receiving the contractor's response. Some investigations take additional time, especially when one side does not provide all the necessary information.
10. Will an investigator come to my house?
Most likely, an investigator will not come to your house. Instead, MHIC relies upon the homeowner providing photographs and other evidence to support the complaint. In certain cases that are the highest priority for MHIC, such as complaint involving elderly homeowners and allegations of fraud, MHIC does attempt to send an investigator to conduct a site visit.
11. What is the purpose of an investigation?
The purpose of the investigation is to determine whether there is enough evidence to support a charge that the contractor violated the Home Improvement Law or regulations. Therefore, the scope of the investigation is limited to answering the following questions: (1) Did the contractor perform the home improvement job in an unworkmanlike manner? (2) Did the contractor abandon the home improvement job without justification? (3) Did the contractor commit any other violation of the home improvement law? If the investigator determines that the contractor may have violated the Home Improvement Law or regulations, then the investigator may recommend that the Commission pursue regulatory charges against the contractor. However, the Commission does not file regulatory charges each time there is an alleged violation. Before the Commission takes regulatory action against a licensee, the file is reviewed by legal counsel, who determines whether there is sufficient legal and factual merit to pursue charges. The attorney may return the file to the investigator for further investigation; may draft the formal statement of charges; or may decline to file regulatory charges, in which case the complaint is closed. It is important to remember that the investigations are objective and that the Commission does not advocate for either the homeowner or the contractor.
12. What happens if MHIC does not pursue regulatory charges based on my complaint?
If the Commission does not pursue regulatory charges against the contractor based upon the complaint you filed, then the Commission will administratively close the complaint. At that point, you will be notified in writing that the complaint is closed. You may have the right to file a claim against the Guaranty Fund or you may file a civil lawsuit in court.
13. What happens if MHIC files regulatory charges based on my complaint?
If MHIC files regulatory charges against the contractor, then the contractor receives a copy of the Statement of Charges and a hearing notice. Hearings are held at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Based upon the number and severity of the charges, if the ALJ finds that the contractor violated the Home Improvement Law or regulations, the contractor may be fined up to $5,000 per violation. In addition, the contractor's license may be suspended or revoked. In some cases, the contractor may enter into a consent agreement and agree to pay a fine or to reimburse money to the homeowner in order to avoid a formal hearing.
14. If there is a hearing based upon my complaint, do I need to appear at the hearing?
Yes, whenever the Commission holds a regulatory hearing, it is necessary for the homeowner who filed the complaint to appear and testify in support of the allegations contained in the complaint. If the homeowner does not appear to testify at the hearing, the regulatory charges against the contractor may be dropped, in which case the complaint will be closed.
15. What is the mediation program?
The MHIC offers mediation free of charge to homeowners and contractors who are interested in working together to resolve their disputes. With mediation, the parties will meet at a convenient time and location with a trained professional who will listen to both sides and then work to create a solution that benefits each side. If the parties reach an agreement during mediation, the MHIC will dismiss the complaint.
16. Are complaints part of the public record?
Yes, unless the contractor resolves a complaint within 30 days, each complaint is typically part of the public record. MHIC does not publish complaints in which the contractor agrees to participate in mediation or complaints that lacks factual or legal merit. Complaints remain part of the contractor's public record for three fiscal years.
17. How do I benefit from filing a complaint?
The complaint triggers a regulatory investigation, which may have no direct benefit to the homeowner. The purpose of the investigation is for MHIC to determine if the contractor has violated the Home Improvement Law. The homeowner does not directly benefit from this investigation, which is aimed at protecting the public by upholding the professional standards of the home improvement industry in Maryland. However, in some cases, MHIC will work with the homeowner and the contractor to settle a complaint whereby MHIC agrees to not pursue regulatory charges against the contractor if the contractor agrees to reimburse the homeowner for some or all the contract price.
18. How can I contact my investigator?
Each investigator is assigned approximately 90 complaints; in addition investigators are scheduled to appear in court throughout the State three or four times per week. Therefore, the best way to communicate with the investigator assigned to the complaint is by e-mail.
19. Which complaints are a priority for MHIC?
MHIC prioritizes complaints that involve: (a) safety and health issues of the homeowner's primary residence; (b) elderly or vulnerable homeowners; and (c) complaints against contractors who have five or more open complaints.
20. Can MHIC force the contractor to come to my house to fix my problems?
No, the Commission does not have authority to order a contractor to return to a customer's home to correct or complete a job. However, many times a contractor is willing to fix items in an effort to resolve a homeowner's complaint. The Commission's authority is limited to issuing a fine to a contractor, suspending or revoking a contractor's license (following a hearing), and in cases where the homeowner has filed a claim against the Guaranty Fund, awarding a homeowner money from the Guaranty Fund.