Homeowners should take steps to protect themselves against repair scams that could develop after record rainfall and flooding overwhelmed parts of Long Island a little more than a week ago, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a consumer-alert warning.
The warning, issued Tuesday by the governor's office, outlines ways consumers can avoid scams and recognize signs of unscrupulous home-repair scam artists.
Cuomo said in a news release that such deceitful contractors "often come out of the woodwork in the aftermath of major storms and try to take advantage of their neighbors."
Benjamin M. Lawsky, the state's superintendent of financial services, agreed, saying that while most businesses are honest, it's common to see an upswing in home-repair schemes after such disasters.
"That is why it's important to shop around for several repair estimates and get written contracts describing exactly what work needs to be done and how much it will cost," he said. "Homeowners should also just say no to anything that sounds suspicious or too good to be true."
Warning signs include:
Repair offers made by door-to-door or over-the-phone sales personnel.
Contractors who pressure you to sign a contract or who say repairs must be made immediately to take advantage of discount offers.
Contractors who say they are working in your neighborhood and that they have extra materials left from another job.
The alert also said homeowners should avoid unlicensed contractors; in Nassau and Suffolk counties, home-repair contractors are required to be licensed and insured.
Contractors should be able to supply proof of insurance and a copy of their up-to-date license, the alert said.
Also to be avoided are contractors who fail to supply references, those who say a written contract is unnecessary, and those who only have a post office box as a mailing address or just a cellphone number.
By law, all contracts for $500 or more must be in writing, "but it's a good idea to get a written contract, even for smaller projects," officials said.
Another warning sign could be when a contractor asks the homeowner to get the required permits for the work. That could mean that the contractor is unlicensed or has a bad track record, and is therefore reluctant to deal with the local building inspector, officials said.
Homeowners should also beware of contractors who demand payment in cash or want full payment up front, before work has even started. Instead, find a contractor who will agree to a payment schedule that includes a down payment and subsequent incremental payments until the work is completed.
Those who believe they have been victimized by scams should consult a lawyer immediately, officials said.
Homeowners can also contact their insurance companies, the Department of Financial Services, their county's district attorney or the state attorney general for insurance-related scams.
Homeowners with disputes can file complaints with the Department of State at dos.ny.gov or by calling 800-697-1220.
Also, the state Department of Financial Services' Consumer Services Unit, 800-339-1759, can help with insurance-related issues.
Signs that a contractor is reliable can include:
References who can support repair work.
Proof that the company is licensed, bonded and insured.
A written contract that provides, in detail, all work to be done, plus materials and appliances or equipment that will be replaced. Be sure to get model numbers, colors and quantity written into the contract. The contract should include that all completed work will meet or exceed local building codes.
The contract also should have starting and estimated completion dates and terms, including the price, finance charges and payments. Be sure to get a copy of everything you sign when you sign it.