Home Improvement Tops List of Complaints;
More than $650,000 in Homeowner Restitution Secured Over
Past Nine Months
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 9, 2005
The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA)
seized 60 vehicles owned by unlicensed home improvement
contractors so far in 2005 citywide, with 80% in the
month of March and April alone. And the spring home repair
season has just begun. Unlicensed contractors who have
their vehicles seized are required to pay a fine, resolve
any outstanding complaints, and agree to get licensed
before retrieving their vehicle. Complaints against unlicensed
contractors and unfinished work top the list of complaints
received at the DCA. In the last nine months, the DCA
has secured more than $650,000 in restitution for homeowners.
"There is no better incentive for home improvement
contractors to get licensed than losing their vehicle
and tools," said DCA Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra. "Unlicensed
and unscrupulous home improvement contractors top our
complaints list and too often we hear of the heartache
many New Yorkers endure. A license protects both the
homeowner and contractor - licensed contractors have
passed criminal background checks, carry insurance, and
homeowners can only benefit from the DCA’s Home
Improvement Trust Fund if they use a licensed contractor.
Additionally licensed contractors have better recourse
against false claims and clients that don’t want
to pay after work has been completed."
"Aggressive enforcement of unlicensed contractors
protects consumers and the legitimate licensed contractors
who play by the rules," said Bob Bernabe, President
of Bernabe Home Improvement Inc. and Vice President/Grievance
Committee Chairman of the Home Improvement Contractors
Association of Staten Island. "We’ve been
working with the DCA to educate consumers and increase
the number of licensed contractors, and we commend the
DCA for making this a priority."
In 2004 the DCA seized a total of 229 vehicles citywide
- as compared with 50 seizures from the year before,
representing a more than 400% increase. As a result,
the number of home improvement contractors getting a
license has increased by more than 30% over the past
three years, with more than 8,200 currently licensed
contractors citywide. There are also more than 9,000
license home improvement salespeople citywide.
By law, any person or business that solicits, canvasses,
sells, performs, or obtains home improvement work that
costs more than $200, must get a license from DCA to
operate legally in New York City. Home improvement work
can be any type of remodeling or repair including: awnings,
basements, central heating/air conditioning, cabinet
installation, central vacuum cleaning system, communications
systems, driveways, fences, garages, patios, porches,
roofing, storm windows, swimming pools, and terraces.
Landscaping is also considered home improvement, with
proper planting and installation of lawn sprinklers as
examples of common work.
Although a license does not ensure competence, requirements
for contractors to operate legally provide further protection
for consumers. Licensed contractors must undergo a criminal
history check, pass a written examination on their knowledge
of the law and contracts, and contribute $250 to the
Home Improvement Contractor Trust Fund at the time of
application and each time they renew, or post a bond.
The DCA’s Home Improvement Trust Fund reimburses
homeowners - up to a maximum of $15,000 - who hired a
licensed contractor that subsequently damaged their home
and went out of business or left town.
A license also provides benefits for contractors allowing
them to pay into the Trust Fund, and therefore saving
the expense of obtaining a bond. In addition, licensed
contractors have greater recourse to defend themselves
from false claims or when a client refuses to pay when
the job is done.
Unlicensed home improvement contractors and unfinished,
shoddy work top the list of complaints received at DCA.
Last year the DCA received approximately 900 home improvement
complaints, the most of any DCA complaint category. The
most common complaints include contractors abandoning
a job before it is completed, not performing work to
industry standards, and not meeting agreed upon deadlines.
To request a license application, file a complaint,
check a vendor’s complaint history, or to request
a copy of the DCA Home Improvement Consumer Guide with
sample contract, call 311, or visit DCA online at www.nyc.gov/consumers.
Homeowners can also use DCA’s instant online HIC
License Check found on www.nyc.gov/consumers, which is