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What Are New York Contractors?

Several professions and occupations require state-level licensing in New York State. The New York State Division of Licensing Services alone is responsible for the licensing, registration, and regulation of over 800,000 individuals and businesses throughout the state, including home inspectors and security and fire alarm installers. Professionals like dentists, pharmacists, landscape architects are licensed by the state’s Department of Education, while attorneys are licensed and registered by the state’s Unified Court System. However, even though New York State regulates all home improvement services that cost more than $500, home improvement-related licenses are typically issued at the local government level by counties, cities, and municipalities. Per Article 36-A of the state’s General Business Law, home improvement refers to the repair, remodeling, alteration, conversion, addition, and modernization of residential property, the construction of custom homes, and the installation or furnishing of home improvement goods and services.

Tips for Hiring a Contractor
in New York State

It is estimated that property owners and residents in the New York metropolitan area spend over $1 billion annually on home improvements. Considering the amount of money involved in this, it is essential to ensure that any contractor you hire is qualified enough to perform the required job. Listed below are some tips to help you hire qualified contractors in New York State:

  • Always be wary of unsolicited offers
  • Never hire the first contractor that you come across
  • Have a working idea of the job that you want to be done
  • Contact your local building department to find out whether any permits will be needed for the project
  • Always get at least three written estimates from different contractors
  • Request for references from the contractor that you intend to hire and check these references
  • Verify the license of your contractor where applicable. If you reside in New York City, the City of Buffalo, Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland counties, then your home improvement contractor is mandatorily required to have a contractor’s license
  • Always request proof of insurance
  • Always insist on a written contract and make sure that it includes details like the timeline of the project, a description of the work that is to be done and the materials that will be used, the total price of the project, and a payment schedule. It is advisable to get an attorney to help you review this contract before you sign it
  • Never pay the full price of the project upfront. Note that New York State requires contractors to deposit any payments that they receive for a project in an escrow account that can be accessed by their customers until the project has been substantially completed

How to Search a Contractor’s License in
New York?

Verifying the licensing status of a contractor before hiring one is essential in the State of New York. Doing this protects you from potential liabilities in the event that your project does not go as planned. With the exception of asbestos-abatement contractors and crane operators, contractor licensing in New York State is generally handled locally by cities and counties. Licenses for the aforementioned contractors are issued by the state’s Division of Safety and Health, and you can verify these licenses by contacting this division at (518) 457-2735 or via email.

Similarly, you can verify locally issued contractor licenses by contacting the licensing authority responsible for issuing the license. The New York State Attorney General’s Office also provides access to online search portals that can be utilized to verify the licenses of home improvement contractors in cities and counties like New York City, Suffolk, County, and Nassau County where such licensing is mandatory. Note that while the specific information required to carry out license searches on these portals may vary, you will typically need to provide the contractor’s name or license number.

The penalties for hiring an unlicensed contractor or working without the appropriate license are determined locally by individual cities and counties. However, unlicensed contractors statewide forfeit any protection that may be available to them under the New York State Lien Law.

How Much Does a Contractor Charge in
New York State?

The cost of hiring a home improvement contractor in New York State typically depends on your location and the type of job that this contractor is expected to perform. New York State contractors generally charge an average of $25 - $60 per hour for labor only. This figure goes up when the cost of the materials that will be required for the project is included.

Listed below are some common home improvement contractor cost estimates for New York State, labor and materials inclusive:

Electricians
$90 - $150
HVAC contractors
$85 - $125
Insulation installation/repair contractors
$30 - $65
Concrete contractors
$90 - $100
Masonry contractors
$70 - $85
Flooring contractors
$50 - $100
Drywall installation/repair contractors
$45 - $95
Interior finishing contractors
$85 - $165
Landscaping contractors
$40 - $65
Plumbing contractors
$80 - $120
Painters
$50 - $70
Carpenters
$70 - $130
Security installation contractors
$85 - $140
Domestic services contractors
$85 - $150
Roofing contractors
$40 - $95

Considering that hiring a home improvement contractor in New York State involves signing a written contract, it is always a good idea to retain the services of an attorney to help you review this contract. This is important especially if there are aspects of the contract that seem confusing to you. New York attorneys generally charge an average of $200 - $400 per hour for their services. However, some attorneys may charge a flat fee to perform specific functions like reviewing a contract. Depending on your location and the attorney in question, this flat fee can cost you anywhere between $100 and $300.

What Are Home Improvement
Scams in New York State?

New York State home improvement scams refer to activities carried out by home improvement contractors that are aimed at fraudulently obtaining money from unsuspecting victims. These home improvement contractors carry out these scams by collecting money for a project and then either absconding or deliberately executing a poor job to ensure that they are called back again. In 2019, the Office of the New York Attorney General received 901 home repair and construction complaints concerning the non-delivery or poor execution of home improvement services, making it one of the top ten types of consumer fraud reported by New Yorkers that year.

The best way to avoid falling victim to a home improvement scam is by never agreeing to have any work done on the spot, especially if the offer to perform this work comes from an unsolicited contractor. When you rush to hire a contractor without proper vetting, you can end up spending a lot of money on very shoddy work. Always take the time to have a clear idea of the exact nature and scope of your home improvement project and seek out qualified home improvement contractors. It is also a good idea to contact the New York State Division of Consumer Protection to find out the state and local laws and requirements for home improvement contractors in your area of residence. If you have been a victim of a home improvement scam or have been contacted by a home improvement scammer, then you can file a complaint with the Office of the New York Attorney General by calling (800) 771-7755 or completing and submitting a Consumer Frauds Bureau Online Complaint Form.

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What are Common Home Improvement Scams in New York State?

In October 2020, the Office of the New York Attorney General announced the indictment of three contractors involved in a million-dollar home improvement contractor fraud scheme carried out against unsuspecting homeowners and businesses across upstate New York. If convicted, these individuals could face up to 20 years in prison. Similar arrests for home improvement scams have been made by this office over the years, with some of the scammers being forced to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in consumer restitution.

Although senior citizens are usually the targets of home improvement scams in New York State, New Yorkers in any age bracket can fall victim to these scams if they are not careful. Fraudulent home improvement contractors use methods like high-pressure phone calls, colorful flyers, and door-to-door solicitations to target their victims. Once they contact a victim, they employ several sales and financial tactics to obtain money from this victim. These tactics include:

  • Exaggerating the need for a particular home improvement or repair service
  • Offering low prices for certain items, then claiming that these items are no longer available and offering a more expensive substitute
  • Misrepresenting the value that a home improvement service will add to the victim’s home
  • Claiming that they offer discounts for a service when in reality their process costs more than the current market price of that service
  • Increasing the advertised cost of an item by claiming that it has to be custom-made to fit the victim’s home
  • Using multiple contracts for a single job to confuse the victim
  • Adding hidden charges to a contract that are above the negotiated price of a project
  • Providing high rate financing or conniving with a third party to offer high rate financing for the home improvement project
  • Misrepresenting the terms of arrangement for the financing of the project
  • Obtaining kickbacks from loan brokers or lenders for referrals

To reduce your chances of falling victim to a home improvement scam, you should know your rights when it comes to home improvement contractors. Per the Laws of New York, specifically Article 36-A of the General Business Law and Section 71-A of the Lien Law, home improvement contractors are statutorily required to do the following for any project that costs more than $500:

  • Provide a written contract for the project that includes the contractor's name, address, telephone number, description of the job, and a consumer notice that state's that the customer has the right to cancel the contract not later than three business days after it is signed
  • Put any payments made before the completion of the project in an escrow account in a bank that is located in New York State not later than five days after this payment is made. Note that the contractor must also inform the customer of the location of this account not later than ten days after the payment. This money can only be withdrawn per the terms of the payment schedule in the written contract, after the job has been substantially completed, or if the customer violates the terms of the contract. In some cases, a bond or contract of indemnity can be used instead of an escrow account

Make sure that any home improvement contractor that you intend to hire meets all these requirements. Never give in to high-pressure sales tactics from a home improvement contractor and always seek a second opinion from a trusted friend or family member before you make any decisions. It is also advisable to retain the services of an attorney to review any contracts that you are offered. There are no state laws that limit the amount of money a home improvement contractor can request as initial payment in New York State. However, you should never make complete payment for a project or sign a certificate of completion until the project has been completed and you are satisfied with the work that was done.

What are Disaster Scams in New York State?

Dealing with the aftermath of a disaster can be a very stressful situation to handle. Unfortunately, many scammers and con artists use this opportunity to target vulnerable New York State homeowners by offering home repair services that they do not intend to properly carry out. Some signs that you may have been approached by a fraudulent home improvement contractor after a disaster include:

  • The contractor promises immediate clean-up and debris removal services
  • The contractor demands up-front payment for work that has not even been done
  • The contractor uses aggressive sales pitches
  • The contractor offers one-day-only discounts
  • The contractor claims to have worked for neighboring homeowners but cannot provide solid references

Listed below are steps that you can take to avoid falling victim to a post-disaster scam in New York State:

  • Be skeptical of any contractor that offers immediate post-disaster clean-up and removal. Contact your local consumer protection agency, find out whether contractors that offer this service in your locality require a license, and make sure that this contractor meets any necessary licensing requirements
  • If applicable, get your insurance company to survey the damage and recommend a home improvement contractor
  • Always ask for an ID, especially if the contractor claims to be affiliated with FEMA
  • Request for a home improvement contractor’s license if your home is located in either New York City, the City of Buffalo or Suffolk, Nassau, Westchester, Putnam, and Rockland counties, and verify the license with the respective consumer protection agencies
  • Never provide personal information like your Social Security Number or bank account details to these contractors
  • Get a written estimate of the cost of the home improvement service
  • Request references from any contractor you intend to hire and verify them. You can also utilize review websites like Better Business Bureau to do this
  • Never agree to verbal contracts. Always insist on a written contract and sign it only if you fully understand it. You can get an attorney to help you with this
  • Be wary of contractors that request cash payments
  • Never make full payment for any project before it is properly completed. Always negotiate a reasonable down payment
  • Always trust your gut. If you have doubts about a contractor, then it is always a good idea to seek out a different one
  • Report any suspected post-disaster scammers to the Office of the New York Attorney General either online or via (800) 771-7755

What are Common Legal
Work Scams in New York State?

According to the American Bar Association, New York State has the largest number of attorneys in the country, with about 184,000 licensed attorneys practicing in the state as of 2020. While this high number of attorneys is good news for individuals that need legal representation, it also increases the chances of New Yorkers falling victim to a legal work scam. New York legal work scams are law-related scams that are carried out against unsuspecting residents of the state by unscrupulous attorneys or con artists claiming to be licensed attorneys. In some cases, actual licensed attorneys are also victims of these legal work scams. Some common types of legal work scams in New York State are:

  • Jury duty scams: these scams involve con artists pretending to be attorneys, law enforcement officials, or other court officials, contacting unsuspecting New Yorkers and telling them that they owe fines for failing to report for jury duty. These victims are then coerced into making payments to avoid arrest. These types of scams are usually targeted at senior citizens and immigrants that are either less likely to report them or unfamiliar with the court system
  • Legal impersonation scams: these scams involve con artists pretending to be licensed attorneys and defrauding unsuspecting New Yorkers. They do this through various methods, which include contacting a potential victim and claiming that the victim’s child has been arrested and needs the payment of an urgent retainer fee to help resolve the situation. Legal impersonation scammers also utilize methods like phone spoofing and email phishing to deceive their victims into thinking that they are legitimate attorneys
  • Legal representation scams: these scams involve con artists pretending to have legitimate legal matters and then scamming the attorneys that they hire to represent them.

Regardless of the method used by con artists to carry out their legal work scams, you can avoid becoming a victim by taking several precautionary measures. These include:

  • Always be wary of unsolicited calls from individuals claiming to be attorneys
  • Never share personal information like your credit card numbers or Social Security Number with any unknown individual that claims to be a court official
  • Check any New York State court-related emails that you receive and make sure that it comes from an @nycourts.gov domain address
  • Contact the New York State Unified Court System via (800) 268-7869 to verify any communications that you receive concerning jury duty or any other court-related activity
  • Verify the licensing status of any individual that claims to be an attorney through the New York State Unified Court System’s registration status portal
  • Be wary of attorneys that pressure you to retain their services and exaggerate the consequences of not doing so immediately. If you feel queasy about an attorney or you are being pressured into retaining this attorney’s services, then you should consider looking for a different one
  • Be wary of individuals that advertise themselves as document preparers. These are not licensed attorneys and they are not qualified to offer you legal advice
  • Insist on receiving copies of any documents that your attorney files in court on your behalf
  • If you hire an attorney, make sure that you get a written fee agreement for this attorney’s services.
  • Avoid making cash payments for any legal services
  • Report any suspected fraudulent activities to the Office of the New York Attorney General. These reports can also be made by calling (800) 771-7755

How Long Does it Take to Get a Contractor License in
New York State?

The length of time it takes to obtain a contractor license in New York State generally depends on the type of license that is required and the agency that is responsible for issuing this license. Home improvement contractor licenses are typically issued by local government authorities in New York State and the processing time for these licenses is influenced by factors like location, the licensing requirements of the locality, and the licensing department’s workload. For example, in Westchester County, the licensing process for home improvement contractors takes approximately 60 business days, while in Nassau County, incomplete applications are deemed closed three months after the applicant has been notified of any missing information and fails to provide it. On the other hand, contractors that apply for a home improvement license in New York City must pass a home improvement examination not later than 30 days after their application is submitted.

As such, it is always a good idea to contact the consumer protection agency responsible for your locality to find out the length of time it takes home improvement contractors to obtain a license.

How to Maintain Your License in New York State

Contractors in New York State are generally allowed to change and update the information on their licenses after obtaining them. These actions are usually performed by contacting the agency that issued the license in question. For example, home improvement contractors in Nassau County that wish to make changes to their current licenses like updating an address, changing their company name, or removing partners, may do so by contacting the county’s consumer affairs office at:

  • Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs
  • 240 Old Country Road
  • 3rd Floor
  • Mineola, NY 11501
  • Phone: (516) 571-2600
  • Phone: (516) 571-3871

Similarly, contractors in New York City that wish to update any information that was used to obtain a license may do so by contacting the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection via phone numbers 311 or (212) 639-9675 for callers outside the five boroughs. Depending on the type of update that is required, the contractor may have to visit this office in person at:

  • 42 Broadway
  • New York, NY 10004
  • Hours: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays

Alternatively, licensed attorneys in New York State are required to complete mandatory Continuing Legal Education to maintain their licenses. Newly licensed attorneys must complete 32 hours of this education within the first two years of being licensed, and subsequently, complete 24 hours of continuing education every two years. Also, attorneys that change any of their initial registration information must report these changes to the New York State Unified Court System's Office of Court Administration located at:

  • New York State Unified Court System
  • Office of Court Administration
  • Attorney Registration Unit
  • 25 Beaver Street
  • Room 840
  • New York, NY 10004
  • Phone: (212) 428-2800

Changes can also be reported via the attorney’s online services account or by sending an email from a personal email account. Note that any change in information must be reported not later than 30 days after the event occurs. These changes usually include information like person numbers and addresses. However, name change updates must be made directly at the appellate division where the attorney is admitted.

How to Renew a Contractor License in
New York State

Contractor licenses issued in New York State all have validity periods after which they must be renewed. The specific length of time that a contractor license remains valid typically depends on the type of license and the agency that issued it. For example, home improvement licenses issued in New York City have a valid for up to two years and they expire on the 28th day of February of years that end in odd numbers. Approximately three months before this expiry date, contractors are mailed a license renewal package. Home improvement contractors that wish to renew their licenses must do so at least 15 days before the license expires. Renewal can be done online or by submitting the renewal application, required documents, and applicable fees via mail-in or in-person between the hours of 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Mondays to Fridays at:

  • NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection
  • Licensing Center
  • 42 Broadway
  • Lobby
  • New York, NY 10004

Similarly, home improvement licenses issued in Nassau County are valid for two years, and contractors can renew these licenses as long as the license in question has not been suspended or revoked. Queries concerning the renewal process can be directed to the licensing division of the county’s Office of Consumer Affairs located at:

  • 240 Old Country Road
  • 3rd Floor
  • Mineola, NY 11501
  • Phone: (516) 571-3871

Note that Nassau County charges a late fee for home improvement license renewals filed 15 – 60 days after the expiration of the license, while renewals filed 60 days – one year later will also result in a lapse on the contractor’s record. If a home improvement license is not renewed within one year of its expiry, then the contractor must apply for a new license.

Finally, the New York State Unified Court System requires attorneys to renew their attorney registration every two years, within 30 days of the attorney’s date of birth. This renewal is mandatory for all attorneys that have been admitted into practice in the State of New York, regardless of whether they are residents of the state or not, are active or retired, and are practicing in the state or outside the state. A registration fee is usually required for this registration. However, attorneys that submit a certification of retirement from the practice of law are exempt from paying this fee. Registration and payment can be done online through the New York Unified Court System’s attorney online service portal. It can also be done in person at:

  • New York State Unified Court System
  • Office of Court Administration
  • Attorney Registration Unit
  • 25 Beaver Street
  • Room 840
  • New York, NY 10004
  • Phone: (212) 428-2800