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Part 3 of 5-part consumer alert series to help people navigate housing scams
Submitted by the New York Department of State Division of Consumer Protection
For this week’s “Tuesday’s Tips,” the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) announced the release of a comprehensive guide with tips to help homeowners avoid home improvement scams.
Home improvement scams have consistently ranked as one of the top five consumer complaints from New Yorkers. DCP receives hundreds of complaints each year regarding home contractors’ poor workmanship, overcharges, unfinished work, and failure to show up or complete the job.
“As the warmer weather approaches, many New York consumers are beginning to think about planning repair and improvement projects to spruce up their homes, and at the same time, fraudulent contractors are looking for homeowners to scam,” Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said. “These scammers will often take your money and leave you and your home worse off than when you started; but there are ways to protect yourself from these common home improvement scams. Following our simple tips, like shopping around, checking references and knowing your rights, can help you spot the difference between a potential scam and a contractor you can trust.”
Tips To Prevent Home Improvement Scams
Shop around – Get at least three estimates that include detailed information about the materials and services to be provided for the job, as well as the project timeline.
Get references and check them – Ask friends and neighbors for contractors they recommend. Always contact references provided to you. Speak directly to former customers and ask to see examples of prior work.
Know the codes – Check with your town or county about permit requirements and the applicable building codes. Be sure you or your contractor obtain the necessary permits.
Check your local government licensing requirements – New York state does not license home improvement contractors, however, some counties and local municipalities do. For example, home improvement contractors must be granted a license to work in New York City and Buffalo, and in the counties of Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Putnam and Rockland. If your local government requires licensure for home improvement contractors or certain home improvement trades, be sure to only hire a licensed contractor.
Take advantage of professional associations – Local home builder associations may offer to recommend reputable contractors and provide support if there’s a dispute with the recommended contractor.
Get it in writing – Insist on a written contract that includes (1) description of the work to be completed, (2) timeline, (3) price and (4) payment schedule. Request that any changes to the contract be in writing.
Never pay the full price upfront – Establish a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Withhold final payment until the entire project is completed to your satisfaction.
Before final payment – Hold final payment until you complete a final walkthrough, approve of all the completed work and all required inspections and certificates of occupancy are delivered.
Know your rights – You have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.
Running into problems? First, speak with your contractor and try to reach a resolution. If a resolution is not possible, file a complaint with your local consumer protection agency, the New York Division of Consumer Protection or the New York state attorney general.
About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The consumer assistance helpline (1-800-697-1220) is available from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, excluding state holidays. Consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection. For other consumer protection tips and consumer alerts, consumers can follow the New York Department of State on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and check in every Tuesday for more practical tips that educate and empower consumers on a variety of topics. Sign up to receive consumer alerts directly to an email or phone here.