AUGUSTA, Maine — On a spring morning in May, Dana Carmichael and his crew were hard at work in Winthrop, screwing on railings of a deck and painting the sides of a house they're hoping to complete soon. Carmichael has been a general contractor for 16 years and has owned his business Summit Construction and Design for more than a decade of that time.
Carmichael had a stint in the early 2000s working in Texas where the rules regarding licensing for general contractors vary based on city or town. In Maine, there's essentially one standard: While electricians and plumbers are required to be licensed per the state, general contractors are not.
"In the last probably four years, I've noticed an influx in contractors coming into the market that just don't have experience," Carmichael said. "[They're] taking advantage of customers, doing work that is not up to code."
Carmichael said as a general contractor himself, seeing this happen has been frustrating. He said he has been called into jobs where contractors before him have done "terrible" work, worth tens of thousands of dollars in damages that he then has to redo.
"Somebody like myself who has employees and overhead, a large amount of insurance every year — it's frustrating because I'm carrying all of that but am still worth the same pay rate as somebody who is just coming into the market," Carmichael said.
Stacy Mahonen of Poland has a different perspective. She said she purchased a home in December of 2021 and needed to hire someone to do renovations. She said so far, she has spent more than $100,000 and hired three different contractors, and the house is still not finished.
"Everybody that I got in there basically just took off with my money, or they didn't put out adequate work," Mahonen said.
Mahonen said at one point, she was living in a camper and then staying with a friend, waiting for work on her home to be completed. She said navigating the system to try to get some money back has been difficult, since in Maine the responsibility essentially falls on the consumer to choose a builder wisely.
"I guess the next step for me is going to court and seeing what I can do, but then again, you have to hire a lawyer and spend more money," Mahonen said.
This legislative session, Rep. Tiffany Roberts, D-South Berwick, is sponsoring bill LD 1929, "An Act to Protect Consumers by Licensing Home Building Contractors." It's slated for a public hearing on Tuesday, May 23 at 3 p.m.
"If you're hiring someone to build a $300,000 home, and they're overseeing licensed electricians and plumbers and multiple other people but they themselves are not regulated — it's creating a safety issue for consumers," Roberts said.
Roberts said she has been working with the Attorney General's office on the language of this bill. In a statement, Attorney General Frey said:
"For Mainers who are fortunate enough to own their home, it is their most valuable and important asset. Right now, our laws do not recognize that reality and safeguard that investment from unscrupulous contractors. By strengthening contract requirements, establishing a licensing requirement, and giving my office better enforcement tools, Rep. Robert’s bill would go a long way to protecting consumers and their homes."
In that email, Frey's office also noted they see about 660 cases related to general contractor issues every year.
In early 2022, the commissioner of the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation testified against a similar bill that aimed to create a registry of general contractors in Maine. NEWS CENTER Maine was not able to reach her for an interview but received an emailed statement from deputy to the commissioner Joan Cohen:
"While we appreciate the concerns raised by proponents, we disagree that licensure is the means to address those concerns or to achieve the goals of public protection. It is unclear which problems this bill seeks to solve. If the goal is to address the fact that unqualified persons are doing substandard work on Maine homes, this bill does very little to ensure that those potential licensees are any more qualified with a license than without one. If the goal is to address potential financial harm from fraud or criminal behavior, this bill does very little to expand the enforcement mechanisms that already exist within the Attorney General’s office or a private right of action. Perhaps the focus should be on expanding resources within the AG's office. If the goal is to establish construction standards, that is also not achieved by this bill."
Cohen also said past Maine Sunrise Review studies (required by statute when the Maine Legislature is looking to license a profession that has not been licensed before) recommended against licensure.
The public hearing for LD 1929 is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23 in the Cross Building, Room 206.