New York State Exposed: Why aren't New York contractors licensed?

Posted at: 11/11/2013 6:40 AM
Updated at: 11/11/2013 5:28 PM
By: Brett Davidsen

Not a week goes by that News10NBC don't hear from a viewer who has had a problem with a contractor either doing shoddy work or taking a deposit and doing no work at all. So News10NBC wanted to know is the state doing enough to protect you from dishonest home improvement contractors?

In New York, you need a license to cut someone's hair, but to put a roof on someone's house, all you need is hammer and a classified ad. 

If you look through the classified ads of your local community newspaper, you'll find page after page of ads for contractors, from driveway pavers and landscapers to masons and roofers. But anyone can place an ad. Howdo you know if the contractor is reputable and where do you go if he's not.

Bruce Casler said, "Anybody can come to your house and say they're somebody and take money from you and walk away and give you nothing, and there's nothing you can do about it. It's unconscionable. It's unbelievable."

Bruce Casler hired a man to replace his leaky roof last year and paid him $2,700 dollars up front. The contractor never returned to do the work and after several months and winter coming, Casler had to hire someone else to do the job. Casler went to police, filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the attorney general's office and got a judgment in small claims court. But none of that got him his money back from the rogue roofer.

Casler said, "It is the most frustrating thing you can imagine. You know that basically a crime has happened and there's nothing you can do about it." 

Carmen Santora, Better Contractors Bureau, said, “The perfect scenario is a state license."

Carmen Santora has been trying for years to get the state to license or register home improvement contractors. Santora is Executive Director of the Better Contractors Bureau. According to the BCB, 41 states and the District of Columbia require some type of licensing to do home improvement work.   New York does not.

Casler said, "With all the other laws we have in place, I can't believe that we don't have this. I mean, seriously."

Santora says making contractors meet licensing requirements and pay a small fee would weed out many fly by night scammers who try to undercut reputable businesses.

Santora said, "These guys are operating without any of that mandatory stuff so it makes it a lot cheaper for them to sell you a job and unfortunately, customers always looking for the lowest price."

But opponents of licensing say New York is already over-regulated and more government isn't the answer. They also fear it could put the small businessman out of business. 

Jim Tuchrello, JT Handman Services, said, "The little guy is already struggling now to keep a business together to make a living off of it."

Jim Tuchrello is one of those little guys. He operates a one-man handyman business and runs it mostly on referrals. He says licensing will create more cost for customers.

Tuchrello said, "It's definitely going to raise it considerably. It all depends on what it's going to cost."

Assemblyman Joe Morelle, (D), Assembly Majority Leader, said, "It does create more government. I think there's some concern about that."

Any type of licensing would require legislation first. So News10NBC went to Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle to get his thoughts. He says he sees Tuchrello's point, but says licensing is a protection that merits serious consideration.

Morelle said, "It's funny that you raise it because it's been brought to me a number of times in the last few months. So, when I get back to Albany and we begin the session, I think I'm going to talk to some colleagues about whether that's something we can pursue."

Casler, though, says any licensing requirement would need to have teeth.

Casler said, "There should be a recourse. There should be a method to make people pay for the mistakes that they've made."

Brett Davidsen will be answering your questions about this on his and our Facebook page from 5:00-7:00p.m. Monday.