Glassboro, N.J. — A master plumbers license enforcement committee here is keeping a vigilant eye out for those violating New Jersey's plumbing licensing law after settling a case earlier this year against Home Depot.
In a case that took nearly two years to resolve, the Gloucester and Salem County Master Plumbers License Enforcement Committee charged Home Depot with contracting plumbing work out to an unlicensed entity, according to court documents.
According to court papers filed Nov. 24, 2006, the committee alleged that Home Depot contracted the installment of a dishwasher to a delivery company not licensed to perform plumbing services in the State of New Jersey.
William White, a committee member and master plumber, said he discovered that the delivery company incorrectly installed the dishwasher after being called upon to install a new dishwasher for the customer.
Upon learning from the customer that Home Depot contracted the original dishwasher installation to the delivery company, White said he alerted the enforcement committee, which took the case to court.
After several delays and re-scheduled hearings in the case, Home Depot eventually settled by pleading guilty and accepting a $758 fine on Jan. 16, 2008, according to court documents.
White said Home Depot argued in court that it first subcontracted the dishwasher installation to General Electric, which then subcontracted the work to the delivery company.
Howard Matalon, the attorney who represented Home Depot in the case, declined to comment and referred all calls to Home Depot.
“We use third-party contractors if there's any need for plumbing,” said Steve Holmes, senior manager of communications for Home Depot. “With a kitchen install, it might be a water heater, (and) we do toilets.”
Holmes said Home Depot has a system for ensuring that its “service providers,” or contractors who work on Home Depot's behalf, are properly licensed.
“If the state law requires a license, we are sending someone out that has a license. Our checks and balances on that are pretty heavy duty. We make sure our service providers are properly licensed.”
Holmes, however, would not comment on why Home Depot eventually decided to settle the case in New Jersey.
“Regardless of any of the points in this case and why we chose to settle, The Home Depot is committed to operating fully within the laws of any state, whether they apply to licensing or anything else for that matter,” Holmes said after consulting with lawyers for Home Depot who were familiar with the case.
Meanwhile, White said he and the enforcement committee are at a loss for how Home Depot can legally subcontract plumbing services to a third-party contractor in the State of New Jersey.
“The customer has little to no knowledge of anybody but Home Depot,” White wrote in a June 2007 letter to the New Jersey Attorney General's Division of Consumer Affairs. “Home Depot is allowed to subcontract plumbing, but only to a licensed master plumber according to the (state's) licensing laws.”
Frank Maddalon, secretary of the New Jersey Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association, said he was unaware of the case, but added that it is not an isolated one for the state.
“We're always looking at (violations). It's not just Home Depot. I can't tell you how many (violations) we've turned in to the state office,” he said. “We constantly have people that we're turning in who are doing work without a license or don't have a proper bona fide rep.”
According to New Jersey law, one can only operate a plumbing company if the owner is a New Jersey master plumber who owns 100% of the company or at least 10% of the outstanding stock in the company.
“According to the Division of Consumer Affairs, you are allowed to subcontract, but you can't advertise that you are doing the plumbing and you must have a disclaimer that all work will be done by a New Jersey State-licensed master plumber,” Maddalon said.
However, Maddalon said the Division of Consumer Affairs says it has insufficient funds to properly enforce the state's plumbing licensing laws.
“I don't know why New Jersey can't put people out of that office to enforce the licensing law,” he said. “I don't know why they don't have money to put investigators out there, but they claim they don't have the money to do it.
“What good is having a licensing law if you're not going to enforce it.”