One of the most difficult tasks for a homeowner, when remodeling their home, is to not only find a reputable, reliable and knowledgeable contractor for your project; it is most important to find one that is licensed and insured. It is the time of year where unlicensed, amateur and shady contractors gear themselves up to prey on homeowners eager to renovate their home.

Now, more than ever, homeowners need to be educated on how to select a licensed and insured contractor or service provider before it’s too late. Utilizing an unlicensed contractor can leave you unprotected and exposed to faulty workmanship and financial harm. An unlicensed contractor typically does not carry General Liability or Workers Compensation insurance, since there is no agency vetting their business. Should an unlicensed contractor damage your home, you are liable. If they or one of their employees gets injured in your home, you are liable. This can lead to lawsuits, increased premiums and medical expenses that could have been avoided by using an insured contractor.

If you are planning a home improvement project, a home repair service or a home remodel, and the projected cost is more than $200, you should ONLY use a local, licensed and insured company. Contractors that require a license include general contractors, heating and conditioning contractors, home improvement contractors, window and siding contractors, roofers, hardwood flooring installers and anyone that alters the interior or exterior of your home structurally, including penetrating walls and floors, or installing hardscape on the outside of your home.  Typically, painting contractors that are only painting your home, or a professional decorator do not require a Home Improvement Contractors License. However, make sure they are insured since they will be providing work inside your home.

Licensed contractors are registered with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). This means the contractor has a valid and identifiable business and home address, maintains Worker’s Compensation insurance, has been fingerprinted, and has taken a test to ensure they are knowledgeable about their contractual obligations to the consumer. One of the biggest benefits of using a DCA licensed contractor is that homeowners are protected by the agencies Trust Fund which provides up to $25,000 in relief to a consumer that may have paid for, but not received, the goods and services they were promised, or to make retribution for any damages that resulted from the actions of their contractor.

Check with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs by calling 311 or by visiting their website at to make sure the contractor you are considering is licensed. The contractor should hold a valid Home Improvement Contractors (HIC) license and the proposal that you receive should reflect the same name and license number registered with the agency.

Electricians and plumbers are not required to hold a HIC license, rather they hold a New York State license, with a license number assigned to the Licensed Electrician or the Master Plumber. Just as it is important to hire a licensed contractor, it is just as important to hire a licensed electrician and plumber for repairs and installation services. These licenses can be checked through the applicable New York State agencies.

An unlicensed contractor may offer a less expensive job than a licensed contractor, but more often than not, the costs associated with repairing their mistakes will offset the initial low price. There is a reason why a contractor is not licensed; whether they are doing it “on the side”, they lost their license or they cannot have a business in their name. None of the reasons are good.

Furthermore, an unlicensed contractor CANNOT pull work permits for your project, as they are not registered with the NYC Department of Buildings. This may be one of the reasons their contract is less expensive, but one that could plague you in the years to come and potentially halt your project.  Renovations that include adding a kitchen or bathroom in the basement, adding onto your home, adding a deck, or sunroom must be filed and permitted. Failure to do so can lead to penalties and fines, and may stop the sale of your home.

Most of all, you should ask any contractor that you are planning to hire to provide references that can be checked and a Certificate of Insurance for General Liability and Worker’s Compensation. If they do not provide both, and continuously avoid providing them, it is not the right contractor for your project. You can check to make sure their insurance is valid by calling the contractors insurance agency.

The more knowledgeable and prepared you are as a homeowner, the more capable you will be in choosing a contractor that is right for your project, and who has taken the initiative to protect their clients.  For any questions about your remodeling project, you can contact HIC of Staten Island by e-mail at

Lana Seidman, Executive Director – HIC of Staten Island Inc.

(718) 356-2323