Home improvements gone wrong might invoke AZROC dispute process

By
Real Estate Attorney with The Law Offices of Steven C. Vondran, P.C. Attorney at Law

 

What to do when the contractor is negligent

 

Overview of Arizona Registrar of Contractors (“ROC”) complaint process.  This article is written by Steve Vondran, civil litigation attorney handling cases in Arizona and California. The law is constantly changing and this article may not be accurate and should not be relied on.  Contact our firm to discuss your case at (877) 276-5084.  This is general legal information.

Introduction 

For many people, real estate is their most valuable asset and when the funds are available, home improvement is often one of the first things on the “to-do” list.  But what happens when the contractor you hire fails to properly perform, or the work is alleged to be defective or below the reasonable standards in the industry? 

This blog discusses some potential problems that can arise, and the right of property owners in Arizona to file a formal complaint with the Arizona Registrar of Contracts (“AZROC”) and how that process could potentially play out.  If you are a contractor doing business in Arizona, it is probably only a matter of time before you will be called to answer such a complaint so it is important to understand how this all works. 

What is the Arizona Registrar of Contractors? 

The Arizona Registrar of Contractors is a state governmental agency whose stated mission is:
 

“TO PROMOTE QUALITY CONSTRUCTION BY ARIZONA CONTRACTORS THROUGH A LICENSING AND REGULATORY SYSTEM DESIGNED TO PROTECT THE HEALTH, SAFETY, AND WELFARE OF THE PUBLIC.” 

Common problems with contractor workmanship on residential or commercial properties.

 

·      Shoddy workmanship

·      Building codes ignored

·      Defective glass products used

·      Fireplace problems

·      Faulty work on air conditioning

·      Ceramic tile cracks

·      Inadequate heating, excessive noise from ducts, etc.

·      Cabinet malfunction, cabinet doors not the same height/color, etc.

·      Poor weather-stripping work (drafts around doors and windows)

·      Contractors not finishing the job

·      Contractors not starting the job at all (while taking all or part of the cash in advance)

·      Defective plumbing work and water leaks

·      Defective electrical work

·      Leaks in gable and walls

·      Leaks through slump block walls

·      Defective waterproofing/caulking

·      Grout discoloration

·      Cracks in joints of bathtubs

·      Solar hot water system

·      Hardwood floor issues

·      Defective countertops

·      Landscaping violations

·      Carpentry issues (interior, exterior and framing) (note: not covered are general expansions and contractions due to the temperature in Arizona)

·      Problems with vents, louvers, and turbines

·      Issues with pouring concrete

·      Problems with doors and windows not fitting, etc.

·      Contractor failing to follow established building codes

·      Unfinished paint jobs, shoddy painting

·      Drywall issues

·      Problems with walls, curbs, and fences

·      Outdoor gas barbecues issues

·      Defective swimming pool work (coping, decks, electrical, interior and exterior finish, solar heaters, water not clear due to circulation and filtration equipment not meeting design requirements, etc.)

·      Negligent outdoor spas and Jacuzzi

·      Defective solar panels

·      Defective roofing, cracked tiles, loose tiles, crooked out-of-line tiles, uneven tiles, etc.)

·      Unlicensed contractor (performing contracting license in Arizona without a valid contractor’s license is a crime). 

 

I think you get the point.  The list of contracting issues goes on and on but basically anything where a contractor comes out to a residential or commercial property and fails to “perform all work in a professional and workmanlike manner” and “in accordance with any applicable building codes” and “professional industry standards” can raise an issue with the Arizona registrar of contractors board.

 

Arizona contractor’s complaint process

 

  1. CONTRACTOR ISSUE RAISED: Contractor is suspected of performing defective work and consumer (residential homeowner) has an ability to avoid filing a complaint by calling the ROC and scheduling an inspection under the “building confidence” program.  Under this program, an inspector from the Registrar of Contractors (usually someone with ICC building code experience) will come out to the property to review to see whether any potential violations have occurred, if so, the contractor will be given a chance to cure the defect without a formal complaint being filed.  In most cases, this is a good chance for the Contractor to review and fix the problem and avoid a licensing complaint.

 

Here is a link to the web page giving the phone number for the ROC builder confidence program review.

 

  1. COMPLAINT IS FILED AGAINST CONTRACTOR: If the dispute with the contractor cannot be resolved at this stage, the property owner can fill out and submit the contractor complaint form.  The complaint will become a public record, which is why it is important to try to avoid this in the first place (pursuant to new rules, a directive may be issued without notice which directive could also become a public blemish on the contractor’s license).  The contractor will be mailed a copy of the complaint and will have 10 days to provide a written response (or their default may be taken).

 

  1. INVESTIGATOR REVIEW: The Arizona ROC examiner will review the complaint to determine whether it is backed by substantial evidence, and whether or not a further on-site investigation of the job site is warranted.  The ROC investigator will be looking to see whether there was a violation of Arizona Contractor’s license law.

 

NOTE: Pursuant to new changes on the law, the ROC may issue a directive immediately to the contractor instead of issuing the corrective action order (set forth below) and the chance to correct a violation without public ramifications may be lost.  So it is important that all contractors, general contractors and subcontractors realize the importance of retaining legal counsel at the outset or first smell of a dispute.   This cannot be overstated.

 

  1. CORRECTIVE ACTION ORDER:  If the investigator for the AZROC determines there is substantial justification to the property owner’s complaint, a corrective action letter or directive may be issued giving the contractor 15 days to comply with the Order (note: we may be able to extend these time frames if retained).  If the problem is fixed, that might dispose of the problem, or the Registrar may issue a citation.  The ROC may also request that the parties submit to arbitration of their dispute (especially where the dollar value of the dispute is low).  At any rate, this highlights the importance of trying to get these disputes resolved prior to having a directive issue, or a complaint filed.

 

  1. EITHER PARTY MAY REQUEST AN ADMINISTRATIVE HEARING: An administrative hearing is basically a hearing in front of a administrative law judge who is a neutral that will hear your case.  If a hearing is requested, the ROC will send the investigation file over to the OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS (“OAH”) and a hearing will normally be set within 60-120 days.  In the hearing it is consumer v. contractor and both parties have a right to be represented by a contractor’s license law firm, lawyer or attorney of their choice.  There are no public defenders for contractor’s who may not have the financial means to defend their company.

 

NOTE:  Pursuant to new changes taking effect, if the ROC does not dismiss the complaint, it could proceed directly against the contractor for statutory violations.  This means, the attorney general’s office could be prosecuting the case against the contractor raising the level of intensity of the case.

 

  1. EVIDENCE PRESENTED AT THE HEARING:  At the OAH hearing regarding the Contractor’s license issues, the Contractor and property owner can each present evidence and tell their side of the story.  The ROC’s investigator credentials, process taken, and findings can all be challenged.  Witnesses may also be called.  The rules are usually much more informal than is a normal civil lawsuit where the rules of evidence are much more strict.

 

  1. OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS ISSUES A PROPOSED ORDER.  The OAH will issue a notice of proposed ruling, findings of fact, and possible penalties to the AZROC within 20 days.  Within 30 days of receiving the OAH proposed decision, the registrar of contracts will issue their decision as to whether or not they agree with the judge’s decision and whether or not they will follow it.

 

  1. ARIZONA REGISTRAR OF CONTRACTS ADOPTS, AMENDS, OR MODIFIES THE OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS (“OAH”) DECISION.  The Registrar does not have to follow the decision of the OAH administrative law judge.  The ROC can agree and adopt the decision, modify, alter or reject it.  This will usually happen within 30 days of receiving the judge’s final decision.

 

  1. THE LOSING PARTY AT THE OAH HAS APPEAL RIGHTS.  The party who loses always has the right to take the case to Superior Court (formal lawsuit is required) and initiate a civil litigation by filing within 40 days to the Superior Court.  Our firm is a civil litigation law firm and we can file and defend these proceedings for either Plaintiffs or Defendants depending upon the facts of each case.  We can offer low flat rate litigation fees in most cases.  Either party may also take the simple step of filing a petition for reconsideration with the AZROC by notifying the ROC within 35 days of the Administrative Law Judge decision.  We can file these petitions as well.

 

  1. THE AZROC MAY DISCLIPLINE THE LICENSE OF THE CONTRACTOR.  Arizona law sets forth several instances where a Contractor may have their contractor’s license suspended or revoked.  Grounds for contractor’s license discipline is set forth in A.R.S. 32-1154. 

 

So this is a basic overview of the process of a complaint from Accusation to administrative hearing and appeal rights. 

 

overview of AZ ROC dispute process
 

Here are a few frequently asked questions about home improvements gone wrong and contractor licensing issues, and, a list of other important resources.

 

 

What are the typical qualifications of ROC contractor examiners
 

The ROC contractors typically have significant experience (20+ years) in building and construction issues and the ICC building code and can be former contractors themselves.

 

What is a corrective action order (“directive”)?
 

This is an order or directive directing the contractor to make the listed repairs within a stated amount of time, usually 15 days.  The contractor’s license may be suspended until the problem is fixed and the respondent complies with the Order.  The ROC may also impose a civil penalty or fine not to exceed $500-$1,000 per violation (depending upon the type of violation).

 

Are there defenses to a ROC contractor’s complaint?
 

Yes.  The contractor can show full compliance with the Arizona contractor’s licensing law, Arizona statutes applicable to the case, and any applicable building codes and by showing the work performed was licensed, up to industry standards of professionalism and the work was performed in accordance with the terms of the contract.  Other defenses are possible depending on the type of case you have.

 

What happens to my contractor’s license if there is a proven violation of the Arizona Contractor’s license law?

 

As set forth in the link above (A.R.S. 32-1154), where there are substantial violations that are not cured the AZROC has the right to revoke or suspend your contactor’s license.  Typical grounds for loss of a contractor’s license in Arizona are discussed in this video by Attorney Steve Vondran.

 

Does the AZ registrar of contractors have field offices?

 

Yes, the main office is in Phoenix, but they also have “field” offices in Kingman, Prescott, Flagstaff, Yuma, Show Low, and Tucson.  Our office law office can represent you in any of these locations.

 

Can the ROC help me get rid of a mechanic’s lien placed on my property by the Contractor?

 

No, the Arizona Registrar of Contractor’s does not regulate mechanic’s liens.  More information about Arizona mechanic’s liens can be found in Title 33 of the Arizona Code.

 

If an Arizona contractor’s complaint is a “public record” can I obtain a copy of the complaint filed?

 

Yes.  A simple public record’s request is available to the public.

 

If an Arizona contractor claims they are “licensed and bonded” does this mean it is true?

 

No.  Don’t always believe what you read or are told.  Read more here.

 

Do I have to be represented by an Attorney if I am a residential or commercial property owner or general contractor?

 

No.  You can always represent yourself, but as the old say goes “a person who represents him or herself has a fool for a client.”  I cold cite examples, but trust me on this one.  Corporations may always be represented by an authorized employee.  The attorney for the AZROC is the Arizona attorney general’s office.  The ROC will not provide any lawyer referrals.   Our law firm can be retained by contacting (877) 276-5084.

 

Why does the OAH offer the contractor a hearing that costs me time and money as a property owner in Arizona?

 

A contractor has a contractor’s license and is entitled to “due process rights.”  This means a right to a hearing and a chance to present evidence to a neutral fact finder.  So while it may seem that a contractor in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area may be given a bunch of chances this is a due process right that is required as a matter of law.

 

What is the Arizona Contractor’s residential recovery fund?

 

We will discuss this in more detail in a future blog, but in general as set forth on the AZROC website a property owner may be able to seek recovery funds from a Arizona contractor:

 

Under certain conditions, you may also be eligible to apply to the residential contractors' recovery fund and receive up to thirty thousand dollars to have the work corrected or completed. Each licensed contractor is covered for up to $200,000.00 to a maximum of $30,000.00 per residential property owner, on a first come, first serve basis upon filing a complete claim. Keeping detailed records of your contract, checks or other forms of payment will speed the processing of your claim, should the need arise. These protections are in addition to other remedies available through the courts.”

 

If the AZROC pays out of the recovery fund for losses attributable to the contractor, the contractor will not be able to renew their contractor’s license until they repay the fund.   Our Arizona real estate law firm can help you apply for recovery funds or defend recovery account actions.  For more information on the recovery account process contact us at (877) 276-5084.

 

Is there a statute of limitations for filing a claim against a contractor in Arizona?

 

Generally, a two-year (2) statute of limitation (from the date of the contractor’s alleged violations) will apply but you should not wait this long as this could be used against you and evidence might have spoiled and other defenses such as laches might be raised against you.

 

What cities and counties does your law firm serve? 

Our law firm has its main headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona.  Our service area in regard to ROC complaints is statewide including servicing Phoenix, Scottsdale, Gilbert, Chandler, Goodyear, Buckeye, Avondale, Sun City, Peoria, Surprise, Paradise Valley, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff, Tempe, Mesa, Casa Grande, Wickenburg, Show Low, Bullhead City, Lake Havasu, Sedona, Kingman and other areas.  We also serve Maricopa County, Navajo County, Coconino County, Pinal County, Pima County, Yavapai County, Arizona.

 

Additional Resources

 

Top five reasons to have Vondran Legal represent you in handling the ROC complaint.

 

Arizona workmanship standards for licensed contractors

 

Search for an Arizona Contractor

 

ROC Building Confidence Program

 

Residential recovery fund form for AZ Registrar of Contractors

 

Arizona Registrar of Contractors forms library

 

Arizona Contractor’s license classifications

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