NEW YORK—With the home improvement season in full swing, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) has a simple message for illegal and unlicensed contractors—get licensed or we are coming to get you.
The DCA has beefed up its annual summer sweep to weed out contractors operating illegally, going from neighborhood to neighborhood in all five boroughs. The operation has yielded 72 vehicle seizures, and close to 60 licenses have either been suspended or revoked.
Staten Island and Queens had the most inspections, with 123 and 116 respectively, as well as vehicles seized, with 21 and 31 respectively.
“When you seize a contractor’s vehicle and their equipment, you get their attention,” DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz said from DCA headquarters Wednesday.
Mintz said any job of $200 of more requires a license, and even if inspectors catch someone on a job worth $250, their vehicle will be seized because they feel if they are doing this job, they are likely working bigger jobs.
Contractor’s trucks are towed away, and all tools are seized as well. Mintz said the fines vary, but the contractors will be charged for the seizure, storage fee, and an automatic $1,000 fine.
Last year, the DCA issued fines totaling $5 million with about two-thirds of them being collected, Mintz said. This summer, DCA has so far issued fines from about $175,000 to $250,000, according to the DCA.
Mintz said contractors can easily avoid the hassle of having their vehicles taken and paying hefty fines by getting licensed. The application can be found online or at the DCA office. It costs $100 every two years, plus a $200 contribution to the consumer trust fund, and requires a background check.
Mintz was quick to assure that immigration status was not an issue with the background check. “I don’t do immigration enforcement. We license 55 different categories of businesses. We have enough to do,” Mintz said. “The issue for us and for homeowners is not where somebody comes from, it is whether or not they are going to do a decent job.”
Mintz urged New Yorkers to do the smart thing and protect themselves by not hiring illegal contractors. The DCA cannot help consumers if something goes wrong on a job done by an unlicensed contractor, including not having access to up to $20,000 from the consumer trust fund.
“This problem can go away tomorrow. We just need to dry up demand. People need to stop taking a risk and hiring unlicensed contractors,” Mintz said.
Quick Tips From the Department of Consumer Affairs for Hiring a Home Improvement Contractor
Always Use a Licensed Home Improvement Contractor
Consumers can check to see if a prospective contractor is licensed by calling 311 or going online at www.nyc.gov/consumers
Get three reputable references before hiring a contractor. Check with surrounding counties for complaints against the prospective contractor as well.
Know Your Contract Rights
By law, homeowners can cancel any contract within three days. Prior to signing a contract, check for cancellation notice.
Get a Written Estimate
Get an estimate from a minimum of three contractors. Estimates must legally be provided if requested, but a contractor can charge for the estimate as long as they let the consumer know ahead of time.
Never Pay Cash
Never pay cash for a job. Never pay more than a quarter of the total up front, making progress payments as the job moves along. Keep track of all payments and paperwork.
Don’t Finance Improvements Through Contractor
It is illegal for contractors to arrange or offer loans for home improvements.
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