ALBANY- As the winter months begin to set in, and many upstate New Yorkers are in the process of hiring snow removal contractors to clear their driveways, storefronts and parking lots, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today issued tips consumers should know before they make hiring decisions.
"Upstate New Yorkers know that snow removal is an essential part of everyday life during the winter season," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "Before the first snowfall, consumers should be aware of their rights, know what to look for when hiring a contractor, and what questions to ask. We want to educate consumers on the front end in order to help them avoid becoming a victim of an unscrupulous individual."
The Attorney General's office recognizes that most snowplowing and snow removal service owners and operators are honest, but problems can arise. Consumers should take the following precautions when hiring contractors for snow removal to help protect themselves from fraud:
- Obtain several quotes to plow your driveway. This will give consumers a good sense of the range of prices currently being offered.
- Don't accept a quote simply because it's the lowest. If a quote is very low, the contractor may run out of money before the winter season is over or the contractor may not have money to pay for repairs when a vehicle breaks down.
- Use a contractor that has been in business for a few years. The winter season brings out many people who decide to get into the snowplowing business. New businesses may have the best of intentions, but may not have the necessary experience.
- Check to see if your local government requires snow plow contractors to be licensed. If so, use a contractor who is licensed.
- Use a contractor who is insured and has proof of insurance.
- Check for complaints with the Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org.
- Pay one half of the contract at the beginning of the season, and one half at the end to help ensure that services promised will be provided.
- Pay by check so you have proof of payment.
- Get a signed contract that has the name, address (do not accept a post office box) and telephone number of the snowplow operator. The contract should spell out how much snow must fall before the operator is required to plow your driveway.
- Obtain proof of identity of the contractor. Ask to see the contractor’s driver's license and copy down the address and identification number.
- Copy down the license plate number of the vehicle that plows your driveway.
- If you have special requirements, spell it out in the contract (for example, if you are an emergency responder who must have your driveway plowed by 7:00 a.m to get to work -- make sure it is in the contract).
If consumers feel they have been victimized, they are urged to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Helpline: (800) 771-7755.