College Park, MD asked in Consumer Law, Contracts and Construction Law for Maryland

Q: I inadvertently hired an unlicensed contractor. I'm unhappy with the work, but I haven't paid yet. What happens now?

I hired a Virginia-based company to repair a leak in my home. I asked if they were licensed to work in Maryland, and they said they were, but the document they provided me says "Out-of-state contractor (not for home improvement)," and neither the business trade name nor any of the individuals I've dealt with appear to have an active MHIC license. (I'm kicking myself for not noticing this earlier.) The work was performed last week, with 100% of the payment due upon completion. I haven't paid them anything yet (because they told me they'd follow up with photos of the completed work, and they haven't done that yet). Last night's rainstorm proved that the leak is not fixed. What are my options? Can I just refuse to pay, on the grounds that they had no authority to negotiate a home-improvement contract with me in the first place?

1 Lawyer Answer
Mark Oakley
Mark Oakley
  • Construction Law Lawyer
  • Rockville, MD
  • Licensed in Maryland

A: Performing a home improvement without a license is a criminal offense in Maryland, and the civil courts will not enforce the contract for the contractor. In other words, the contractor cannot legally accept payment, or sue you if you don’t pay, so no, you do not have to pay. I would immediately have a licensed contractor inspect the work and the leak and identify the defective workmanship, and confront the unlicensed contractor with both the findings of the new contractor and the fact that they are not licensed. If you prefer to avoid direct communication then you might pay a lawyer to communicate with the unlicensed contractor on your behalf, and direct the contractor to have no further contact with you and to stay away from you and your property. If you wish to report the contractor to the MHIC, there is a complaint form you can download for this purpose. You may or may not be out of pocket depending on whether what they did will end up costing more to undo in order to fix your problem than would have been the case had you hired a competent contractor in the first place. Make absolutely sure they are not licensed, but the company name on the contract has to have a MHIC license attached to it through some principal of the business, and it should come up on the license search under the company name if there is one.

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