Contractors and home maintenance

Consumer Issues

Hiring a home-improvement contractor 

Avoiding scam artists when hiring home contractors

Like many New Yorkers, you may face the daunting task of making major repairs to your property after a major storm or other weather event. Greater demand for contractors may make it harder for you to find a reputable contractor to make badly needed repairs. Some contractors may overextend themselves and promise more than they can deliver. Natural disasters and major weather events often attract scam artists who try to take advantage of you and other consumers when you are most vulnerable. After a big weather event, be especially vigilant to avoid being victimized as you attempt to put your life back in order.

Home-improvement fact sheet

Hiring a contractor

While you may be understandably tempted to hire a contractor quickly, observe a few basic precautions to protect yourself from costly mistakes. Here are some tips to help you in choosing a contractor.

Be on the alert for scam artists:

  • Be wary of anyone who shows up at your door unsolicited and offers to do home repairs.  
  • Non-local “storm chasers” may be difficult to track down if they perform work incorrectly or if you later have additional problems you want the contractor to fix.
  • Use a contractor with a name, address, and contact number you can verify
  • Don’t fall prey to high-pressure tactics: A legitimate contractor won’t pressure you to sign a contract and hand over a deposit on the spot.
  • Never give a contractor a cash deposit before you sign a contract.

Always do your homework before you hire a contractor:

New York state law requires that consumers receive a written contract for home-improvement work that exceeds $500. The contract must contain:

  • the contractor’s name, address and telephone number
  • the approximate start and completion date, including any contingencies that would change the completion date
  • a description of the work to be performed and the materials to be provided to the consumer, including make; model number or any other identifying information; and the agreed-upon price for the work and materials
  • a notice advising you that you have three business days to cancel the contract, unless during an emergency you waive the right in writing
  • a notice that all payments received by the contractor prior to completion of the contract work must be deposited in an escrow account

Never pay the full price up front:

  • If the contractor requires a deposit, try to negotiate a small amount.
  • Establish a payment scheduled and stick to it.
  • Keep in mind that contractors are required to put your deposit in an escrow account and notify you within five days where the funds are being held or prove they have bond insurance.

Be a smart consumer:

  • Never sign a document without reading it carefully.
  • Never sign a document that contains blanks or is otherwise incomplete.
  • Make sure you get a copy of any document you sign.
  • Ask your contractor if any permits are needed for the work and verify with your local building and codes office before beginning the work.
  • Ask multiple contractors for price quotes to compare.

Work with your insurance company:

  • Before you have a contractor perform work other than repairs necessary for safety reasons or to prevent further damage) review your insurance policy and check with your insurance company to see if the work is covered by insurance.
  • Don’t begin permanent or substantial work before you obtain approval from your claims adjustor.
  • Check that your contractor is working with your claims adjustor to make sure that the repairs are performed so they will be covered by the insurance company.

Hiring a moving company

Find out if a mover is licensed by the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) for moves wholly within New York, and by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for moves between New York and another state:

  • Although unlicensed movers may be cheaper than licensed movers, licensed movers must meet various insurance, safety, and financial standards.
  • Don't take unnecessary risks by using a mover who won't give you an address, telephone number, or license number.

Before selecting a mover, know and understand your rights:

Check out the mover:

  • For information about an intrastate mover, contact NYSDOT at 1-800-786-5368.
  • For more information, call the Better Business Bureau at 212-533-6200 for the New York City area or 1-800-828-5000 elsewhere in the state.

Get estimates from different movers based on a physical inspection of your home or apartment. Be wary of any estimate that is far less than other movers' quotes. This could be a "low-ball" bid that the contractor may inflate at the time of your move.

Before anything is moved, make sure the mover gives you a written "order for service" that states the probable cost of the move and how much you will have to pay to have your property unloaded if the actual cost exceeds the estimate:

  • To have your goods released after an intrastate move, you will generally not have to pay more than the original estimate plus 25% if you are paying the mover by the hour (or plus 10% if you are paying by weight). You will have 15 days after delivery to pay the balance on intrastate moves.
  • For moves between two states that are billed by weight, the maximum payment due on moving day is 10% above the estimate. Any balance must be deferred for 30 days after delivery (no such interstate rule applies for moves billed by the hour).

Read the bill of lading carefully:

  • The bill of lading is a formal contract.
  • Before you sign the bill of lading, make sure you understand whether the cost of the move is based on the time it takes to do the job or the weight of your goods, or whether it is fixed in advance in a written, binding estimate (remember, you won't know the exact cost of an hourly rated or weight-based move until the shipment is delivered or weighed).
  • Never sign forms that have blank sections to be filled in later by the mover.

Make sure you understand the different levels of protection available for your belongings and the limitations on the mover's liability:

  • Before you sign the bill of lading, ask yourself whether you want basic, intermediate, or maximum coverage for your goods.
  • Expensive or valuable articles should be separately listed for their full value (remember, if you want the maximum protection, you must specify the dollar amount in the valuation section of the bill of lading)

File all claims promptly and in writing with the mover. Keep a copy of your letters, payment records, and contract documents in case you have a problem with your move.

If your claim is not resolved, file a complaint with NYSDOT. You can also request arbitration through the mover's dispute-resolution program, or consult with a private attorney for other assistance.

To obtain more information on movers or if you have a problem with a mover, please contact: