2012-08-24 / Top Stories

One In Five Contractors Are Unlicensed

Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Jonathan Mintz announced that during the first two months of its enforcement sweep, DCA conducted more than 380 inspections and caught one in five home improvement contractors operating without a license. During the sweep DCA seized 72 vehicles throughout the City, targeting aggressive enforcement in Staten Island and Queens. The contractors could face between $175,000 and $250,000 in fines to the City. Illegal contractors put homeowners at risk for unsafe workmanship, unfinished projects and excessive expenses. Today DCA also debuted a new video in English and Spanish in its how-to series onYouTube to guide New Yorkers in hiring and working with a home contractor.

In the last year, DCA has conducted 755 inspections throughout the City, issuing nearly 400 violations, seizing 134 vehicles and revoking or suspending more than 60 licenses. The Department also secured more than $3.6 million in restitution for consumers. The majority of the nearly 600 complaints received by DCA about home improvement contractors involved contractors failing to follow through on the terms of their contracts with homeowners. Home improvement contractors are consistently one of DCA’s highest complaint categories. There are currently 12,723 home improvement contractors licensed by DCA. The number of licensed contractors has more than doubled since 2003 thanks to aggressive enforcement and focused licensing outreach efforts by DCA.

“Unlicensed contractors often undercut legitimate businesses with lower prices but can’t be held accountable for their shoddy work and any damages they cause,” said Commissioner Jonathan Mintz. “Consumer Affairs inspectors are working hard to stop unlicensed home improvement contracting but the single best way to put an end to unlicensed contracting is for people to hire only licensed contractors. By using Instant License Check online or by calling 311 or viewing our new “how-to” YouTube video, it’s easier than ever for New Yorkers to find a licensed contractor.”

Anyone soliciting or performing home improvement work in New York City that costs more than $200 must be licensed by DCA. A DCA license ensures that a background check has been performed and is ultimately backed by DCA’s Home Improvement Contractor Trust Fund, into which licensees pay a fee and consumers can seek up to $20,000 in restitution.

DCA also provides a model contract that covers the breadth of a home improvement project, from materials and equipment to prices, payments and work schedules. Home improvement contractors can apply online for a DCA license or at the Licensing Center.

Quick Tips for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Always use a licensed home improvement contractor and/or salesperson.

Check if your home improvement contractor and/or home improvement salesperson is licensed by calling 311 or using DCA’s Instant License Check at nyc.gov/consumers. Persons soliciting or performing home improvement work in New York City costing more than $200 must be licensed by DCA. Get references.

Call 311 to check a contractor’s complaint history with DCA and check with at least three reputable references before hiring a contractor. Also check with surrounding areas including Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties for complaints. Know your contract rights.

By law, homeowners have the right to cancel any contract within three days, including contracts for home repair and/or improvements. Always check the contract, especially for a cancellation notice. Get a written estimate.

One of the best ways to calculate the cost of your home improvement work is to get estimates from a minimum of three contractors. Under the Home- Improvement Business Law, a home improvement contractor must provide a written estimate upon request. If a contractor charges for supplying a written estimate, you must be told the fee before an estimate is prepared. Use DCA’s home improvement model contract.

Don’t start work or make payments without a written contract that clearly indicates all of the specifics of the project.

DCA’s model contract is an easyto use template that covers the breadth of a home improvement project, from materials and equipment to prices, payments and work schedules. DCA’s model contract is free and available online at nyc.gov/consumers or by calling 311. Ask for the Home Improvement Contractor license application packet. Never pay cash.

Never pay for repairs or improvements without a contract and never pay in cash. Pay no more than a quarter of the total amount upfront, up to a maximum $15,000, to get the work started. Then continue with ‘progress’ payments as work continues so payments are tied to specific work progress, with final payment due when all the work is completed to your satisfaction. Be sure to keep track of all paperwork and payments. Don’t finance improvements or repairs through your contractor.

It is illegal for contractors or salespeople to arrange or offer to arrange home improvement loans for you. If they attempt to do this, file a complaint immediately with DCA through 311 or online at nyc.gov/consumers. If financing is needed for repairs or improvements, investigate reliable and legitimate options on your own at your bank or credit union of choice. Consider looking for home improvement contractors who use green products.

Green products are healthier for the environment and better for your home. Visit nyc.gov/greenyc for tips.

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