7 NYC Contractor Hiring Tips

Updated August 17, 2011
Make sure the contractor you hire has a valid license.

Use these tips from the NYC Dept. of Consumer Affairs to help avoid a bad hiring experience.

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According to New York City's Dept. of Consumer Affairs, complaints from consumers who have had problems with home improvement contractors have been the second-highest complaint category for three years.

When hiring in New York City, the DCA stresses that consumers should only hire DCA-licensed contractors and never hire an unlicensed contractor. Not only will you receive peace of mind knowing your contractor carries the right credentials, but if something goes wrong, consumers can seek restitution through the DCA’s Home Improvement Contractor Trust Fund. The agency says it was able to deliver $6.2 million in restitution to consumers in the last year alone.

The DCA offers these tips to consumers seeking to hire a home improvement contractor:

1. Always use a licensed home improvement contractor.

Any individual soliciting or performing home improvement work in New York City that costs more than $200 must be licensed by DCA. You can check if your home improvement contractor is licensed with the DCA by calling 311 or by verifying them online with the DCA’s Instant License Check.

2. Get references.

Call 311 to check complaint history with DCA and check with at least three reputable references before hiring a contractor. Also check with surrounding areas including Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties for complaints.

3. Know your contract rights and read the fine print.

By law, homeowners have the right to cancel any contract within three days, including contracts for home repair and/or improvements. Always check the contract, especially for a cancellation notice.

4. Get a written estimate.

Calculate the cost of your home improvement work by getting estimates from at least three contractors. Under the Home-Improvement Business Law, a home improvement contractor must provide a written estimate upon request. If a contractor charges for supplying a written estimate, you must be told beforehand how much the fee will be.

5. Use DCA’s home improvement model contract.

Don’t start work or make payments without a written contract that clearly indicates all of the specifics of the project. DCA’s model contract is an easy-to-use template that covers the breadth of a home improvement project, from materials and equipment to prices, payments and work schedules. You can find the DCA’s model contract online or by calling 311.

6. Never pay cash.

Never pay for repairs or improvements without a contract and never pay in cash. Pay no more than 25 percent of the total amount upfront, up to a maximum $15,000, to get the work started. Then continue with ‘progress’ payments as work continues so payments are tied to specific work progress, with final payment due when all the work is completed to your satisfaction. Keep records of all the paperwork and payments.

7. Don’t finance improvements or repairs through your contractor.             

It is illegal for contractors or salespeople to arrange or offer to arrange home improvement loans for you. If they attempt to do this, file a complaint immediately with the DCA. If you need to finance your home's repairs or improvements, investigate reliable and legitimate options on your own at your bank or credit union of choice.

With these considerations from the NYC DCA in mind, don't forget that you can always find both the good and the bad on thousands of contractors in New York City and New York tri-state area by checking AngiesList.com.

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