Each year, thousands of New York homeowners embark on new improvements or repairs to their homes. Under NYC law, "home improvement" work can range from repairing a leaky roof to installing new kitchen cabinets, from gutting a basement to paving a driveway, or even just landscaping the yard. New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) offers those having such work done in their home much protection.
With a few exceptions (i.e., electricians, plumbers, architects, professional engineers, and security alarm installers), any contractor soliciting or doing more than $200 of home improvement work within the five boroughs must have a DCA license. This applies to contracts with homeowners who own single or multiple dwellings of up to four residences, and it applies to tenants, condominium unit owners, and cooperative shareholders who are making improvements to their apartments (regardless of the number of residences or dwelling units in the buildings where they reside).
Make sure only to use a contractor licensed by the DCA. Using a licensed contractor ensures that a criminal background check has been done, they carry proper insurance, and that you're protected with the DCA's Home Improvement Trust Fund. In order to further protect yourself and do all you can to have a smooth home improvement experience, we urge that before you sign a contract, pay any money, or allow any work to be performed, you follow these important steps:
- Read the DCA's Consumer Guide to Home Improvements. The Department of Consumer Affairs has published a guide to keep New Yorkers informed about all they need to know before hiring a home improvement contractor.
Download the guide (pdf)
Download a sample contract (pdf)
- Check if a contractor is licensed, reputable, and insured. Requirements for contractors to operate legally provide further protection for homeowners. For example, licensed contractors must undergo a criminal history check, pass a written examination on their knowledge of the law and contracts, and contribute $200 to the Home Improvement Contractor Trust Fund at the time of application and each time they renew or post an insurance bond.
Find out if your home improvement contractor is licensed
- Demand a written contract. The law requires home improvement contractors to provide you with a contract which describes the terms of the services to be provided. Contracts negotiated in Spanish must be written in Spanish and you have the right to cancel within 72 hours of signing it.
Download a sample contract (pdf)
- Be familiar with homeowner restitution options. The DCA can use bonds or its Home Improvement Trust Fund to reimburse homeowners – up to a maximum of $15,000 – who hired and paid a licensed contractor who subsequently damaged their homes and went out of business or left town.
- Avoid loans arranged through your contractor. NYC law prohibits any home improvement contractor from acting as an agent for a lender or advertising, promoting, or arranging a home improvement loan. If your contractor has illegally offered to arrange a bank loan, or any loan through a financial institution while negotiating a home improvement job, call 311.
- Shop around. Investing in home improvement can be expensive and time consuming.
- Ask for and check references.