A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlement With St. Lawrence Home Building For Failure To Follow Home Improvement Contractor Law

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 29, 2017

Attorney General’s Press Office / 212-416-8060
nyag.pressoffice@ag.ny.gov
Twitter: @AGSchneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES SETTLEMENT WITH ST. LAWRENCE HOME BUILDING FOR FAILURE TO FOLLOW HOME IMPROVEMENT CONTRACTOR LAW

St. Lawrence Home Building Pays $10,000 Penalty for Continued Refusal to Use Contracts Required By State Law 

A.G. Schneiderman Offers Tips To Protect New Yorkers Seeking A Home Improvement Contractor

WATERTOWN – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced that his office has reached a settlement with St. Lawrence Home Building Corporation, resolving an investigation of the home improvement contracting company over its repeated failure to use contracts as required by state law. An investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s Office uncovered that, despite being put on direct notice of their legal obligations to use contracts in 2010 and 2013, the company continued to disregard the law. The agreement announced today requires the company, which is owned and operated by William DiTrinco, to use compliant contracts in future home improvement projects, and to pay a $10,000 penalty to the State of New York.

“For decades, St. Lawrence Home Building failed to provide homeowners with a written and signed contract before initiating projects. These agreements protect consumers and contractors alike, and are required by state law,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “I encourage New Yorkers to consult my tips before hiring a home improvement contractor – and contact my office right away if they suspect shady business practices.”   

In the fall of 2016, the Attorney General’s Office initiated an investigation into St. Lawrence Home Building after homeowners submitted a consumer complaint stating that the company improperly filed a construction lien on their property for more than $9,800 and refused to provide a home improvement contract. While mediating the complaint, the company stated that it had never used contracts in its decades of business operation. In 2010 and 2013, St. Lawrence Home Building was included in the Attorney General’s statewide home improvement contractor initiative aimed at ensuring contractors were complying with the law. Through that initiative, St. Lawrence Home Building was put on direct notice of its obligations to follow the law twice, and was subsequently notified of its failure to follow the law.

During the course of the investigation, and after having again been informed that the business was illegally engaging in major home improvement jobs without a contract, the business began improperly asking their clients to sign a waiver of the statutory contract requirements. DiTrinco has previously stated that he intends to close the business and dissolve the corporation. However, if he or his business operates as home improvement contractors in the future, the agreement requires that they use contracts that are compliant with New York General Business Law, and prohibits them from requesting that customers waive their legal protections. Additionally, St. Lawrence Home Building has agreed to waive the prior claim levied against a homeowner for $9,800.

The Attorney General’s office continues to focus on protecting New York homeowners and prosecuting fraudulent home improvement contactors. In the last month alone, the Attorney General has:  

  • Sued Buffalo-area contractor John Kniery, owner of Tree Service by John, for failing to offer his customers home improvement contracts, as well as taking advance payment from consumers and never completing the work. The Attorney General’s Office reviewed over 40 complaints against Mr. Kniery, and seeks restitution, penalties, and other relief in the pending lawsuit.
  • Obtained a consent order and judgment against Tri-State Paving and its owners, Richard Attenborough, III and Stevee Paige Castle-Lagerquist, who engaged in a fraudulent bait-and-switch scheme in areas across the state, including the North Country and Binghamton. The consent order required the business to refund over $33,000 to New York homeowners, pay a penalty of $10,000 to the state, and bars them from the home improvement contracting business for a number of years.
  • Filed a motion for criminal and civil contempt against Jason Briere, owner of Under Construction. The Syracuse business owner continued to operate a home improvement contracting business in violation of a prior court order barring him from the industry without first posting a bond and complying with state law. The Attorney General seeks a contempt order, civil penalties, restitution, and other relief for consumers.
  • Secured a judgment against a Rochester home improvement contractor, Brian Robinson, for over $92,000 in restitution and civil penalties. Over the course of almost six years, Mr. Robinson accepted advance payment for snow plowing, tree removal, and other home improvement work, but failed to complete the work or completed it in an unprofessional manner. The judgment bans Mr. Robinson from the home improvement contracting business.

In New York, home improvement contractors are required to use contracts for any job that costs the homeowner more than $500. The contract must be signed by both parties and contain: proposed start and completion dates; a description of the work to be completed; materials to be provided; total cost of the contract; and include a notice to the consumer of their unconditional three-day right to cancel the contract without penalty, among other items.

The Attorney General encourages homeowners to consider the following tips when planning to use a home improvement contractor:

  • Never agree to have work done on the spot, especially when potential contractors are marketing door-to-door
  • Determine exactly what you want done, then look for a qualified contractor
  • Shop around; get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided
  • Ask for references; check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers, and neighbors.
  • Always contact any references provided to you
  • Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed
  • Do not pay unreasonable advance sums; negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job
  • Never pay the full price up front
  • Remember that you have three days to cancel after signing a home improvement contract, but all cancellations must be in writing

Additional information on how to avoid fraudulent home improvement contractors can be found on the Attorney General’s Website.

The case against St. Lawrence Home Building was handled by Assistant Attorney General Alicia M. Lendon with the assistance of Consumer Protection Representative Sharnette Grant. The Watertown Regional Office is led by Assistant Attorney General In-Charge Deanna R. Nelson. The Division of Regional Affairs is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Marty Mack.