Resources Available for Homeowners to Protect from Scams

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
A home is one of the biggest investments a family can make and with homeownership, repair projects are inevitable. In some cases, homeowners can perform the work that needs to be done but in other cases, hiring a contractor is necessary.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous contractors sometimes inflate costs or do not complete the work that was promised which can lead to delays and costly problems for the homeowner.

Senior citizens are often targeted by what amounts to a home improvement scam.

There are, however, a few ways to ensure that hiring a contractor for a home improvement project or repairs adds value to a home, not hardship.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, some telltale signs that a contractor may not be reputable include someone who:

· Pressures for an immediate decision

· Only accepts cash

· Asks for payment up front

· Tells the consumer to borrow money from a lender the contractor knows.

It is especially common for contractor scams to proliferate after a disaster or a flood.

Property owners along the southern and eastern shores of Lake Ontario have been battling high water since early spring and many property owners, unfortunately, have experienced damages and shoreline erosion due to high lake levels.

Some need to hire contractors to repair property or protect from further erosion.

At a recent meeting held to help explain financial assistance available through the Lake Ontario Flood Recovery Program that my office helped facilitate, a representative from the State Attorney General’s office attended and urged property owners to be vigilant and obtain at least three estimates for work that needs to be completed.

This is also a recommendation outlined in the flooding recovery grant guidelines.

In general, obtaining more than one estimate enables property owners to decide the best option and helps prevent contractors from price gouging.

State law requires a contractor to provide a written contract for home improvement work.

The contract should include a timeline for work to be completed, a payment schedule and specifics about the project such as materials needed.

According to the State Attorney General’s office, for larger projects, architect or engineer plans should specify details and any verbal changes to the project should be added to the written contract.

In general, it is best to withhold the final payment until the project is complete and inspections and certificates of occupancy are finalized.

It is also recommended that property owners verify what permits are needed for the site if possible.

New York does not require general contractors to be licensed but the state does require general contractors to carry general contract insurance. If a contractor is injured or damage is caused to the home, the homeowner could be liable if the contractor is not insured.

Finding a reputable contractor can be a challenge.

If a contractor was not recommended by a trusted source, consumers are urged to ask the contractor for references.

One way to find a reputable contractor is to visit the Better Business Bureau’s site at www.bbb.org/en/us/

This site maintains a listing of general contractors and provides a rating based on consumer complaints or experiences.

To search a rating for a specific business or find a general contractor nearby, click on the search bar at the top.

To learn more about how to prevent these scams, visit bbb.org/homescam/

To file a complaint on a consumer matter, call 1-800-771-7755 or visit ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/filing-a-consumer-complaint.

For those along the lake shore, a work permit from Department of Environmental Conservation is often needed.

For questions or to obtain a permit, contact David Bimber, Regional Permit Administrator at DEC, (315) 426-7438.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.

You also can find me on Facebook.