Four Things to Know Before Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor

Ask the Expert: A Note from the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, Lorelei Salas.

With longer days and warm weather upon us, many New Yorkers are spending more time outside and, in turn, are thinking about home repairs or even renovations. Is this the year you finally repair the tiles in your bathroom? Remodel your kitchen? Or replace the decaying shingles on your roof?

In 2017 alone, the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) received 109 complaints from Staten Islanders about home improvement contractors. If home improvement work is on your to-do-list, here are some important tips you should know before hiring a contractor:

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

A person or business must have a DCA Home Improvement Contractor license if they engage in the construction, repair, remodeling, or addition to any land or building used as a residence in New York City if the work costs more than $200. This includes, but is not limited to, the construction, replacement, or improvement of basements, driveways, fences, garages, landscaping, patios, porches, sidewalks, swimming pools, and terraces. Using a DCA licensed improvement contractor 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. to protect you and your family. 

Check if your home improvement contractor is licensed by calling 311 or using DCA’s Instant License Check at nyc.gov/dca.

2. Get References – and call them.

Home improvement complaints are one of the top five complaint categories that DCA receives year after year. The majority of consumers submit complaints about the quality of work, non-delivery of service, and breach of contract. How can you avoid falling victim to these same problems? Ask for recommendations from friends and family, call 311 to check a contractor's complaint history with DCA, and check with at least three reputable references before hiring them. You should also check surrounding areas including Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties for complaints. Do your homework on the contractor before signing any contracts to avoid a headache in the long run.

3. 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. Home improvement contractors 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.

Don't start work or make payments without a written contract that clearly indicates all of the specifics of the project this will help to avoid unexpected costs for work you didn’t agree upon. DCA’s model contract – available at nyc.gov/dca–is an easy-to-use template that covers the breadth of a home improvement project, from materials and equipment to prices, payments and work schedules.

4. 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 of $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.

DCA is committed to protecting New Yorkers from deceptive and predatory business practices.  Last year we secured a total of $2.4 million in restitution for consumers and assessed approximately $1.5 million in fines for cases related to Home Improvement Contractors. Consumers can file a complaint online or by calling 311 and can visit nyc.gov/dca to access tips for hiring a home improvement contractor.

For any questions about your remodeling project, you can contact HIC of Staten Island by e-mail at hicofstatenisland@gmail.com .

Lana Seidman, Executive Director
HIC of Staten Island, Inc.

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