In the last two weeks, we’ve house-toured Elizabeth’s West Village stunner and Marissa’s Prospect Heights bath makeover. Part of the fun in seeing a truly transcendent renovation is that homeowners like these ladies make this process look like a cake walk – but as a commenter pointed out after last week’s post, it is hard work to pull these projects off and make them look positively effortless.
One part of the story you are unlikely to see on any “before and after” design blog? Specifics about contractor licenses. Sure, it is great fun to look at glittering new tile and fixture picks, but a successful renovation includes a lot of behind-the-scenes maneuvering that generally requires specific licenses and expertise. Do you know what kind of work requires a license in NYC? Would you know where to look to find out if a contractor has a license for your project? This is not an intuitive part of a renovation, my friends, so let’s take a closer look at these questions.
The stodgy legal language is all up at NYC.gov, but here is a quick rundown:
* Anyone who provides home improvement work that costs more than $200 must get a home improvement contractor (HIC) license in New York City.
* The HIC license means three things: it means that the City has put the contractor through a criminal history check, it means that the contractor has passed an exam about law and contracts, and it means that the contractor has paid $200 into a fund that the City holds in order to reimburse homeowners who hire a licensed contractor who ends up doing damage and then goes out of business or leaves town.
So hold it right there. I sort of thought that this license requirement thing was a minorly annoying and perhaps altogether unnecessary compliance step that the City has on its books. But as a homeowner, I would definitely want to know that my contractor has passed a criminal background check and I would want access to that pot of funding if something went haywire. This actually seems like a pretty decent deal for homeowners. To be sure, the license itself is not a seal of competence or quality, but it does seem like a logical (and free) protection for homeowners.
Even more intriguing than the fund for homeowners: the City’s Department of Consumer Affairs enforces the license requirement by going after unlicensed contractors with a big stick — literally! If you report that a contractor is working without a license, the City can actually take possession of the vehicles from an unlicensed home improvement business and require that the business pay a fine, resolve outstanding complaints, and get going on that license before the vehicles are released.
If you are a homeowner preparing for renovation or repair work, you are probably juggling a lot of considerations about how to select the right contractor, and cost is probably at or near the top of your list. Home renovation planning is overwhelming; looking at a contractor’s license can help you narrow the field. As tempting as it is to let cost dictate your decision making, beware: you might find that a contractor with a low-ball quote is actually unlicensed (or uninsured…which is a different problem). In addition to thinking about which contractor has the right skills for your project, you need to add two steps to your to-do list:
1. Ask all candidates for their HIC license numbers.
2. Use the City’s search tool to look up the license number and confirm that it is active. You can also call 311 – you may find yourself on the phone for a bit but the good folks at 311 can also tell you whether there are any outstanding complaints against a particular license holder.
Here at Sweeten, we’re getting a head start on this for you. All Sweeten experts are screened for their HIC licenses. Post your project and let us help you get started!