Planning a major home improvement project?

Adding new windows? Replacing your sidewalks? Building a garage or storage shed?

If so, there are two major things to consider before having the work done. One is that you have the necessary municipal permits. The other is that if you hire a contractor, be sure he is licensed to do the work.

Ignoring either requisite could land you in hot water.

First, regarding permits, check with your borough or township secretary or zoning officer. There is some work that can be done without permits.

However, if you do the work and a permit had been required, you could be forced to undo it and/or pay fines.

Regulations vary among municipalities, so be sure if you are a landlord in more than one town, find out about the respective regulations.

Regarding your contractor being licensed, failure to do so could result in your project being shut down – with you losing the money – or you could fall victim to a scam.

Especially in tough economic times, scam artists thrive. Individuals and firms offer cheap work and great deals then fail to deliver, letting the home owner fend for himself.

Contractors are required to have identification cards with their state registration numbers.

Don't take their word for it. You can check the licensing credentials of any contractor by visiting the Web site of the Pa. Office of the Attorney General.

In 2008, the state legislature passed the Home Improvement Consumer Act which required all contractors who perform at least $5,000 worth of home improvements per year to be registered.

Besides assuring you that the business is legitimate, the info on the Web gives a contact phone number for the contractor, the names of the individuals operating the business, and a street address of the company or contractor.

Use caution if you need major home improvements done. Check the Pa. Attorney General's Web site. Get references. Make sure you have the necessary permits.

It will save you a lot of grief and expense.

By Ron Gower

rgower@tnonline.com