If you are planning on starting a home improvement project, replacing your heating or air conditioning system, renovating the exterior of your home, or any other major improvement that costs more than $200, there is no doubt you should only enlist the services of a local, “licensed” and insured contractor.

Contractors in the five boroughs of NYC are governed by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). They are required to hold a valid Home Improvement Contractors license issued by the agency. Being a registered, “licensed” Contractor with the DCA means that the contractor has a valid and identifiable business and home address, maintains Worker’s Compensation insurance, has been fingerprinted, has provided a roster of employees, has completed a testing requirement to ensure they are knowledgeable about their contractual obligations to the consumer, and their business has been registered with the State. This ensures that homeowners are protected financially, should a business be found guilty of faulty workmanship or not delivering services they were contracted for.

Pursuant to the requirements of the DCA, there are certain rules and guidelines that must be upheld in a contract between homeowner and contractor, with the safety of the consumer in mind.  In fact, the DCA provides a format for the contract between the homeowner and consumer, which at first, may seem a little intimidating, but is the suggested format by the agency so the consumer is fully aware of the products and services they are going to be provided, as well as the payment schedule that is expected.

If a homeowner ever has a problem with a “licensed” contractor, the DCA has resources for the consumer to be protected against faulty work or paid, but not received services.  The only way the DCA can provide this type of protection for the consumer is by the consumer making sure they are using only a DCA “licensed” contractor.

For any homeowner with questions about a contractor or service provider they are considering for hire, call 311 and inquire about their DCA Home Improvement Contractors license.  The DCA will be able to confirm the license is still active, provide a history of complaints on the contractor and assist with any other related matters or questions.

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, painters that are only providing painting services, businesses that provide carpet or linoleum installations or that install or replace window coverings do not need a Home Improvement Contractors License. However, make sure they are insured since they will be providing work inside your home.

I also encourage consumers to check with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to ensure no complaints have been placed against the contractor you are considering.  In addition, utilize the internet to seek reviews about the business. You may also search websites like Houzz, Porch, Angie’s List and Yelp to see what others have to say about the business you are about to hire.

Most of all, you should ask any contractor that you are planning to hire to provide references or addresses for the current jobs they are working on. This will provide you with some insight into the type of work they have provided for other customers.

By utilizing an “unlicensed” contractor – which may mean a family member, a contractor that “works on the side” or an out of state contractor – homeowners may find they are priced better than one that is licensed and insured in the five boroughs. However, there is a reason they are cheaper. They are possibly not paying for the proper insurance, are not insured to do work in New York or may have employees that work off the books, so there is no payroll expense. But that only translates into leaving you and your home unprotected.

It is not uncommon for homeowners that have used “unlicensed” contractors to receive substandard work – or had an experience where they provided a deposit, had materials dropped off but the work never started. Or even worse, had demolition started in their home and the contractor never returned after the initial payment. Because these contractors were not licensed with the DCA, there was little a homeowner could do to be compensated for their loss.

Professional, quality and full-time contractors that are properly licensed and insured carry a considerable overhead in doing business and may be more expensive because of the measures that they take to protect the consumer.

When considering a contractor, the most important question to ask is “are you licensed by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs?”.  This is the first step in vetting the right contractor to build, renovate or repair the most prized possession you own, your home.  Hiring the cheapest contractor may be the most expensive mistake you ever make.

For any questions about your remodeling project, you can contact the HIC of Staten Island by e-mail at [email protected].

Alex Filis, President – A.F. Signature Home Renovations

(347) 952-1449   www.afsignaturerenovations.com