AUGUSTA – Homeowners, saying they were cheated out of thousands of dollars by contractors doing shoddy home construction work, spoke last week in support of legislation that would require home contractors to be licensed.

But others, including Maine’s top professional regulator, said the problem does not warrant state regulation, and that licensing would just increase the cost of home building and home repairs.

The bill, L.D. 1306, would apply only to home contractors who do at least $3,000 worth of work, according to bill supporter Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston.

Rotundo said Friday she has heard “horror stories” from constituents “who lost their life savings due to unscrupulous or inept contractors.”

Foundations that were “wavy,” uneven windows and door openings that sagged were among the problems mentioned by homeowners at Thursday’s public hearing on the bill.

Testimony on the bill went on for hours, with four people speaking against the bill and 19 in favor.

In addition to battling cancer, Jann Melnick of Lisbon said she has dealt with a contractor who did shoddy work on her home, forcing her to hire others to fix problems he left.

“I have mortgaged myself to the hilt so my sons would have that decent roof over their heads,” she said, adding that her building costs have reached “astronomical amounts because of my contractor’s defaults and substandard work.”

Sharon Deppe of Allentown, Pa., who’s building a home on Dyer Road in Lewiston, said that after her contractor poured the foundation, the cement was uneven, the walls wavy and too high. A building inspector told her it was one of the worst foundations he has seen.

“We are just like many others who wanted to build a house, and got taken and abused by a contractor,” Deppe said in written testimony.

Linda Desrosier of Litchfield said faulty work by her contractor meant she spent thousands more for a two-story garage. Her contractor left the project with door openings that sagged, windows incorrectly cut and framed, and parts of the building improperly supported, she said. Now, Desrosier said, her family’s money is gone and its is left with an unfinished building.

There’s little recourse for homeowners “who have been taken,” Rotundo said. Licensing contractors would change that, because a contractor could lose his license for unprofessional behavior, she said. The Attorney General’s Office agreed, and testified for the bill.

But others disagreed.

Christine Bruenn of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation said her department is opposed, warning that any attempt to regulate building contractors must be preceded by adoption of a mandatory statewide building code.

The benefit of having licensed home contractors does not justify the burden, Bruenn said, adding that regulating home contractors would end up increasing all consumer costs.

Jeff Ohler of Auburn, president of H.E. Callahan Construction and speaking for the Associated Constructors of Maine, said he was also opposed, agreeing the problem does not warrant licensing contractors.

Ohler cited a study by the Attorney General’s Office that found that from 2000 through 2002, 300 complaints about home contractors were received. With 80,000 projects undertaken in those three years, the rate of complaints was a less than 1 percent, Ohler said.

“Consumers’ best chance of not falling prey to unscrupulous contractors lies with their own due diligence” and observing existing laws, he said. For instance, current law prevents any home contractor from taking more than a 33 percent down payment on any home project over $3,000, and requires a written contract, Ohler said.

Regulating home contractors would not only cost more for licensing, it would decrease the number of available contractors, which would further escalate costs, Ohler said.

A work session on the bill by the Businesses, Research and Economic Development Committee is scheduled for April 14.

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