News

Sandy Victims Say They’re Being Scammed By Contractors

Workers Disappear Without Finishing Jobs

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Superstorm Sandy

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Some Breezy Point residents whose homes were damaged by water and fire during superstorm Sandy say they’re being scammed by the people they hired to help them rebuild, CBS 2’s Tamara Leitner reported.

Kathy Brothers thought a contractor she hired to repair her roof had finished the job.  “And when I went up into the attic, I looked, and I saw the sky,” she said.

Brothers had to patch the roof and hasn’t seen the contractor in months.

“I don’t think he’s licensed,” she said. “I don’t know where he lives. He doesn’t answer his phone anymore.”

Neighbors Bob Brown and Michelle Hogan are also wondering what happened to their contractor after they paid the same man, Jeff Regan, upfront for work that was never completed.

“I’d like to see him learn you can’t do this to people,” Hogan said, crying. “It’s not fair. I wasn’t upset about the hurricane. He upset me.”

Leitner tracked down Regan who said he had no comment. “I told you to make an appointment,” he said.

Louis Esturo said she hired Chris Long after signing what looked like a legitimate contractor’s proposal to build a kitchen counter.

“When they cut the board for the countertop, they cut it two inches too short. … To compensate for the two inches, he stuffed it with paper towels,” the 69-year-old grandmother explained.

Long soon disappeared, Esturo said. She called police and the offices for the district attorney, the attorney general and the mayor, but received no assistance.

When confronted at his home by Leitner, Long admitted that he was not licensed and said he mailed a $1,500 refund check to Esturo last week after he “didn’t like the way it was coming out.” As of Wednesday, Esturo had not received the check.

Deboard Gardner, of the Department of Consumer Affairs, said the agency goes after contractors like Long.

“It’s important that he get caught, that he get violations against him,” she said, adding that is often difficult to locate the rogue contractors.

The DCA also made the following recommendations for hiring a home improvement contractor:

  • Always use a licensed home improvement contractor and/or salesperson.

Check if your home improvement contractor and/or home improvement salesperson is licensed by calling 311 or using DCA’s Instant License Check at nyc.gov/consumers. Persons soliciting or performing home improvement work in New York City costing more than $200 must be licensed by DCA.

  • Get references.

Call 311 to check a contractor’s complaint history with DCA and check with at least three reputable references before hiring a contractor.  Also check with surrounding areas including Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties for complaints.

  • Know your contract rights.

By law, homeowners have the right to cancel any contract within three days, including contracts for home repair and/or improvements. Always check the contract, especially for a cancellation notice.

  • Get a written estimate.

One of the best ways to calculate the cost of your home improvement work is to get estimates from a minimum of three contractors.  Under the Home-Improvement Business Law, a home improvement contractor must provide a written estimate upon request.  If a contractor charges for supplying a written estimate, you must be told the fee before an estimate is prepared..

  • Use DCA’s home improvement model contract.

Don’t start work or make payments without a written contract that clearly indicates all of the specifics of the project. DCA’s model contract is an easy-to-use template that covers the breadth of a home improvement project, from materials and equipment to prices, payments and work schedules. DCA’s model contract is free and available online at nyc.gov/consumers or by calling 311.  Ask for the Home Improvement Contractor license application packet.

  • Never pay cash.

Never pay for repairs or improvements without a contract and never pay in cash. Pay no more than a quarter of the total amount upfront, up to a maximum $15,000, to get the work started. Then continue with ‘progress’ payments as work continues so payments are tied to specific work progress, with final payment due when all the work is completed to your satisfaction.  Be sure to keep track of all paperwork and payments.

  • Don’t finance improvements or repairs through your contractor.

It is illegal for contractors or salespeople to arrange or offer to arrange home improvement loans for you. If they attempt to do this, file a complaint immediately with DCA through 311 or online at nyc.gov/consumers .  If financing is needed for repairs or improvements, investigate reliable and legitimate options on your own at your bank or credit union of choice.

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