Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ June 2007

How to Contract for Home Improvements

By Linda Perlman

As winter turns to spring, and spring to summer, many homeowners in our neighborhood are making arrangements for the performance of home improvements, such as installing a new roof, repaving a driveway, building a deck, or remodeling a kitchen.

In Maryland, home improvement contractors must be licensed by the Maryland Home Improvement Commission (“MHIC”).  A home improvement includes the repair, alteration, remodeling, or replacement of a building or part of a building used as a residence and includes an improvement to the land or a structure adjacent to the building.  In order to obtain a MHIC license, a contractor must:

The Home Improvement Guaranty Fund applies to work done by licensed contractors and compensates individual homeowners up to $15,000 for actual monetary losses due to poor workmanship or failure to perform or complete a home improvement contract.  It is a criminal offense to do home improvements without a license and a homeowner who does business with an unlicensed contractor is not protected by the Guaranty Fund.

The Maryland Home Improvement Law requires that all contracts for home improvement work be in writing and signed by the homeowner and the contractor.  The contract must include:

Before entering into a contract for home improvement work, you should check the contractor’s references and business reputation, as well as the contractor’s license status.  You can check with the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (phone 240.777.3636; website, then click on “residents,” then “resident services,” then click on “consumer protection”) and the Better Business Bureau (phone 202.393.8000 or to find out if there have been complaints about a business you are considering using for home improvement work.  You also should check with the MHIC, either by phone or at the MHIC website, to determine if a contractor is licensed before you do business with that contractor (phone 410.230.6309 or 1.888.218.5925; website www.dllr.state.

If a building or other permit is required for the home improvement work, the permit must be issued and in force before the work begins.  Permits are generally required for structural changes to a residence or for changes that affect the health and safety of the residents.  Permits also are required for projects, such as fences or driveways, which might encroach on a neighbor’s property or violate a building setback requirement (i.e., a requirement that a structure be located a certain distance from the property line).  MHIC law requires that the contractor either obtain the required permit for you or ensure that you get the permit for the work.  Local jurisdictions may not issue permits to unlicensed contractors.

If you have questions about permit requirements, then you should contact the Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services at 240.777.6300 or check their website at

[Note:  Most URLs have been updated since the printed newsletter.]    ■

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