Hiring a Contractor 101

Important advice to heed as you rebuild from Sandy.

From Ari Brown, a trustee in the Village of Cedarhurst:

Thankfully, most of us have our electricity restored, we are back in our homes, with some semblance of the lives we knew “pre-Sandy”.

I have received countless calls, text and emails regarding construction advice and more so, regarding the “ethics of the construction industry.” Many people are so desperate to get back into their homes that they are willing to pay any price, to any contractor, without following the proper protocols and procedures to ensure that they won’t be left with an even worse mess, whether physically or monetarily. There are many, many unethical characters out there that are looking to prey on people’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities, especially during the aftermath of these past storms.

I was asked by a friend to stop by and meet a contractor who was to remediate the moisture and mold issues in their cellar, and to “give my opinion” if they should hire him. I went to the house and met this young fellow, who seemed nice enough. I asked if he had insurance, liability and workmen’s compensation, and to see the contract that he has prepared for my friends to sign. Needless to say, he had neither the insurance nor even a scrap of paper for them to sign. To add insult to injury, he wanted 50 percent up front (a sum of $10,000) to get started. Obviously, I asked him to leave and advised my friends to seek someone or some company that was reputable.

Hiring a Contractor 101, the basics for hiring a contractor that will be working in your family home or business:

a) Liability Insurance: Your contractor must have liability insurance naming you “As Additionally Insured” on the written policy.

b) Workmen’s Compensation: If he has any employees, he must furnish you with a Work Comp. Certificate.

c) Contract: A document that will not only specify the work that is to be provided, but will also specify how long the project will take to complete, with a date of completion. The contract should also have the terms of the warrantee included, which will define the warrantee on the material as well as warrantee of the labor provided. The contract should also include a payment schedule that offers a deposit (typically 20-25%) and proceeds with further payments as work progresses, culminating into the final payment upon substantial completion and or inspection by the local building department. 

d) Licensing: Almost every tradesman that will enter your home is required to have some type of license, whether through the county, township and or village. A call to your local building department will clarify this issue.

e) References: It truly amazes me that people are so desperate to get anyone in their home that they don’t even think to ask for at least three references of local people that have used the person or company for similar work. When I asked my friend’s potential contractor for a couple of references, he could not, though he stumbled about for a minute or two to think of one that would give him a good referral. A call to Nassau County Office of Consumer Affairs at 516-571-2600 is also advisable to see if there are any issues with the contractor, whether carpenter, plumber or electrician. Consumer Affairs will also let you know if in fact the person is licensed and if there are any complaints.

Please, I know everyone is anxious to get back to their lives, but caution should be taken to ensure that you and your families are physically and financially safe and not placed in a worse position. There are many great trades people out there, but unfortunately, there are many bad guys as well, looking to take advantage of the desperate.


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