The Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act requires contractors to provide written contracts for any project costing more than $1000. Despite the rule, many contractors don't put things in writing. Instead, they rely on oral contracts with homeowners.
Obviously, this can create problems for both parties. The issue that came up recently is what happens when a contractor relies on an oral contract and later wants to sue a homeowner who won't pay. If a contractor remodels a kitchen based on a series of oral agreements, does the fact that they violated the written-contract rule affect their ability to sue for payment?
In the past, some homeowners were able to point to the violation and avoid a lawsuit for payment; the courts basically said that the contractor could not enforce an oral contract. Other courts came to the opposite conclusion.
Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court cleared things up. Contractors are allowed to sue if a homeowner won't pay, even if the contractor violated the Act by failing to provide a written contract. This doesn't mean the agreement is valid. The rules of contract law still apply. It just means that the contractor is allowed to pursue it.
This is good for contractors, but what does it mean for homeowners? It means you need to be more vigilant and get everything in writing. It creates an opening for scam artists to talk you into something you don't really want. It means those casual agreements made while talking with your contractor can be enforced.
Get everything in writing - start and end dates, description of the materials to be used, description of the work to be performed, detailed payment plan, any warranty or guarantee on the work, etc.
Also, get several estimates and do your research on a contractor before hiring them. Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau, ask if they are licensed (if required) and completely insured (ask to see proof), and ask the same questions about any subcontractors they may be using. Be wary of a contractor who requires complete payment upfront.
And know that you have three business days to cancel the contract, even if the work has already begun. There is some good information on how to protect yourself, and how to report a scam, on the Illinois Attorney General's website.
Legal Tip Of The Day comes from Chicago attorney Alan Toback: If its yours keep it yours . If you own property before your marriage and want it to remain yours, don't put your spouse's name one it.
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