Do you hire a doctor or a lawyer without checking their licenses, their pedigree, and their referrals? So, why is it that when it comes to investing in their greatest asset (the home), so many people become victims of dishonest contractors who demand large advance payments for projects, and then fail to complete the work fully or competently. What are your rights.
In Rockland County, there are several resources designed to protect us from unscrupulous home improvement contractors. The first, Rockland County Code, Section 286, empowers the Office of Consumer Protection to license and regulate nearly all home improvement contractors and transactions. [Rockland County Law can be found at http://www.ecode360.com/?custId=RO1021, Chapter 286].
The comprehensive law covers everything from licensing individual contractors; (286-7) the contents of home improvement contracts (286-12); the prohibited acts (286-10); the penalties for not complying with the law (286-21); and the powers of the Board. While the nuances of such law are complex, the goal is to provide minimum standards to avoid the main problems that homeowners have with contractors.
Among various prohibited activities, the law prohibits the “willful failure to perform;” “misrepresentation;” fraud in the execution of or in the material alteration of any contract; failure to pay any owner, supplier, vendor, subcontractor, independent contractor, employee, or other person arising out of any home improvement contract. While all of these activities cause problems, the failure to pay others exposes the home owner to liens from others, including a mechanic’s lien. The failure to comply with the law exposes the errant home improvement contractor to loss of their license, civil and criminal fines, criminal prosecution, and various other stiff penalties.
To avoid these problems, Section 286-12, requires a panoply of provisions to be incorporated into the home improvement contract, including: approximate dates when the work will begin and on which all construction is to be completed; a description of all work to be done, the materials or material allowances and equipment to be used; limitation on the size of the down payment (shall not exceed $1,000 or 15% of the contract price); a schedule of payments showing the amount of each payment (contractor not permitted to receive more than 100% of the value of the work performed on the project at any time); a full and unconditional release from any claim of a mechanic’s lien by the contractor upon completion of any payment or stage; a required one-year warranty guaranteeing the quality of workmanship and a three (3) day right of rescission.
Not all counties in New York have such comprehensive consumer protection laws. As a result, New York’s Attorney General set up a second comprehensive location to assist homeowners and contractors wend their way to a successful relationship– www.nyknowyourcontractor.com.
Among the common sense, but oft overlooked tips: know what work you want done; know what permits are needed, look at multiple contractors; figure a proposed time line for when each phase of work will be done and paid for; get references, and check them; get proof of insurance (including builders risk and workers compensation); check licenses; pay incremental payments until the work is completed; and withhold final payment until all the work is completed and certificates of occupancy are finalized. Like attorneys, contractors are required to put your incremental payments into an escrow account and use it only for your job until it is substantially complete. Ask whether the Contractor is bonded.
Bottom line– While not every home improvement contract and project warrants such careful analysis, our government has enacted laws protect homeowners from themselves. If a contractor is unwilling to abide by the minimum protections set forth in the law, or is on the list of “bad” contractors on line, have the sense to move on. Check the Attorney General’s web site for a listing of contractors with judgments or substantiated complaints against them.