Following A.G.'s investigation revealing widespread abuses, contractors agree to end unlawful practices
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced a settlement with 211 home improvement contractors for violating the state's home improvement contracts law. The 211 contractors have signed an agreement to end their unlawful conduct and will pay penalties and fines, after an investigation by the A.G. revealed widespread violations of the law, including failure to provide written contracts or honor the most basic terms of consumers' work agreements.
The geographic regions in which settlements were reached include Binghamton (48), Buffalo (31), Poughkeepsie (27), Rochester (28), Syracuse (16), Utica (18), Watertown (35) and northern Westchester and Putnam (8). The contractors have agreed to do home improvement work using only underwritten contracts that comply with the law, and to put all advance deposits into a customer account at a local banking institution. Each of these contractors paid penalties and costs ranging up to $1,500.
"Far too often, homeowners hire contractors without having signed documents stating what work will be done and how long it will take. And time and again, consumers end up with much larger bills than expected, or with projects that were never started or completed," Schneiderman said. "They need to know their rights, and home improvement contractors must obey the law. My office will continue fighting to protect consumers' hard-earned dollars and ensure that bad contractors are held accountable."
Article 36-A of the general business law requires that every home improvement contractor, before beginning work, must provide the consumer with a written contract, signed by both parties, which sets out certain specific information and disclosures.
For example, the contract must:
Provide proposed starting and completion dates
Describe the work to be done
Include materials to be provided
Give notice that the consumer has an unconditional three-day right to cancel the contract without penalty
In addition, the law requires that any advance deposits taken by the contractor must be placed into an account at a banking institution separate from the contractor's other funds. The contractor must notify the consumer of the banking institution at which the deposit is kept.
Consumers should take the following precautions when hiring home improvement contractors:
Be specific about what work you want done
Educate yourself about the required permits - don't rely solely on the contractor
Get references and check them
Get proof of insurance from the contractor
Check licenses (if required)
Never pay the full price upfront
Always put work to be done in writing
Know where your payments are going
Never do business with a contractor who is unwilling to abide by any of the conditions above
If consumers feel they have been victimized, they are urged to contact the attorney general's consumer helpline at 1-800-771-7755.