How to hire a NYC-area contractor after storm damage
Though flooding was rampant along the Eastern Seaboard, Astoria, Queens, saw much more property damage from flying debris and falling trees. (Photo by Brandon York)
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, homeowners in the New York City tri-state area may be experiencing thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to their homes or property, or total devastation. Unfortunately, after every major disaster, scam artists seek to make a quick buck by capitalizing on the misfortune of others.
Check consumer reviews on Angie's List and use these guidelines compiled from New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs, the Connecticut Dept. of Consumer Protection and New York City’s Dept. of Consumer Affairs to avoid becoming the victim of a scam:
1. Hire only licensed or registered contractors
Hiring a contractor that is licensed or registered properly not only ensures that a company is operating legally, but some government license programs also offer consumer recourse through the form of complaint submittal, arbitration programs or restitution funds. Before making a hiring decision or depositing any funds with a contractor, verify that they’re properly licensed.
New York City
In New York City, any home improvement work or repairs costing more than $200 must be performed by a licensed home improvement contractor. Verify a contractor’s credentials using the New York City Dept. of Consumer Affair’s Instant License Check website.
General contractors and trades such as electricians or plumbers are regulated specifically by the New York City Dept. of Buildings. Verify a NYC general contractor, plumber or electrician’s license here.
The State of New Jersey regulates licenses for home improvement contractors and specialty contractors such as plumbers and electricians. Verify a New Jersey contractor’s license at the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs website.
Home improvement contractors, HVAC technicians, plumbers and electricians must all be registered with Connecticut’s Dept. of Consumer Affairs. Verify a contractor’s credentials here before making any hiring decision.
Other locales in the tri-state area
Your village, town or city may have its own licensing requirements for contractors, as well. Check with your local building department for more information.
2. Get several estimates
Always shop around and obtain at least three written estimates for storm damage repairs, advises New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs. Ask the contractors if they have liability and workman's compensation insurance as required by law and if they will be using subcontractors on the project.
3. Carefully check referrals
Get references from contractors who are providing estimates and take the time to talk to people who have had work done in the recent past, suggests Connecticut’s Dept. of Consumer Protection. It's also a good idea to speak your local building department or building inspector, especially to learn who you should avoid.
4. Get every detail in writing
NYC’s Dept. of Consumer Affairs urges homeowners to make sure every detail of the project is written in the contract, including specific work to be done, type of materials to be used and itemized costs, warranties, cleanup responsibilities, and payment schedules based on work progress. The DCA provides a detailed sample contract here for consumers to use.
5. Never make large down payments
The NYC DCA also strongly advises that home or building owners do not pay contractors more than 25 percent of the total contract amount upfront, up to a maximum $15,000, and to never pay in cash.