PLATTSBURGH — Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced a settlement with 47 local home improvement contractors after they were allegedly found to be in violation of the state’s Home Improvements Contracts Law.
In his first visit to Plattsburgh since taking office, Schneiderman held a press conference Saturday morning vowing to keep contractors honest while protecting New Yorker’s hard-earned dollars.
“Unfortunately, not enough consumers are familiar with this law and not enough contractors abide by it,” he said.
The 47 contractors, according to Schneiderman, have signed an agreement to end any unlawful conduct and paid fines ranging from $300 to $1,500.
“All have pledged to abide by the law going forward,” he said. “We will be continuing to monitor them.”
Roy L’Esperance, who owns Chimney Sweep Hearthside Shop in Plattsburgh and in Shelburne, Vt, reluctantly paid $1,500 in fines, and considered closing his New York store after receiving what he said were threatening letters from the Plattsburgh District Attorney’s office.
He hired a lawyer to fight the allegations, but ultimately ended up having to pay restitution.
L’Esperance said his stores, both retail locations, should not necessarily be subjected to the same laws as other contractors.
While his stores do deliver and install wood stoves, L’Esperance said he has always required customers to sign a contract and was surprised to hear he was in violation of the law.
The ruling, passed in 1988, requires every home improvement contractor, before beginning work, provide the consumer with a written contract signed by both parties, outlining specific information and disclosures.
“It has to include information about the materials, which is frequently a subject of dispute and inform customers of the three-day right to cancel,” Schneiderman said.
The law also states that any deposits contractors take from homeowners are to be kept in a separate account and the money cannot be used to pay off materials from other jobs.
But L’Esperance is not sure where his business fits into the legislation.
“They are trying to impose a law that is over 20 years old,” L’Esperance said. “I think if legislators had any indication of how it was going to be enforced, things would be different. It was never intended to get retail stores.”
SENT WARNING LETTERS
Glen Michaels, assistant Attorney General in charge of the Plattsburgh office, worked with Scheiderman’s office in Albany to investigate complaints from area consumers and make sure contractors were aware of the law.
“Initially we sent warning letters to contractors beginning in 2009 in order to educate them about the law,” Michaels said.
But he said by last spring, the office learned most contractors were still not in compliance with regulations outlined in the law.
This led to further investigation by Schneiderman’s office in Albany in May 2011 and he called the results “astounding.”
“We found that the overwhelming majority failed to follow the most basic provisions of the law,” Schneiderman said. “Many had no contracts at all for the consumers and most of them had no idea that the law even existed.”
They also found that, despite their efforts with the mailings, the amount of consumer complaints involving contractors had not decreased.
Schneiderman said one complaint involved an elderly homeowner who was given an estimate of $13,000 for repairs to her home, but after the work was completed she received a bill for $25,000.
In another complaint, he said a lumber company filed a $10,000 lien against a homeowner for materials used by a contractor but not paid for by contract funds.
During the investigation, a survey was also sent to more than 100 area contractors to get a better idea of their understanding and compliance with the law.
The results showed that more than 30 percent of contractors, nearly one in three, failed to provide any kind of written contract, according to the statement from Schneiderman’s office.
They also showed that an additional 50 percent of contractors failed to provide even the most basic provisions required by law, such as an unconditional three-day right to cancel agreement and almost none of the contractors put customer deposits in a separate account.
‘LITERALLY AFFECTS SERVICES’
Schneiderman was also accompanied by Chris LeFevre, of Cadyville, who owns Northeast Irrigation and Landscape.
LeFevre was praised by Schneiderman as an example of someone who was abiding by the law and doing contracts the right.
“His business is doing very well. Part of our message here is we want to support the good contractors who follow the law and play by the rules,” Schneiderman said. “We don’t want unscrupulous contractors to get a competitive advantage over the good guys.”
LeFevre said the law does not impact his business, but could understand where it may affect others.
He also sought legal assistance to make sure he had the proper contract in place to serve his customers under the law’s guidelines.
“I just try to be honest with people and keep business on the up and up,” LeFevre said.
He said he was not familiar with any unfair practices by other local contractors.
L’Esperance said his business was not unscathed following the investigation and wonders what guidelines major retail chains like Lowe’s and Home Depot must adhere to and why they did not appear on the list.
“This literally affects the services we have available,” L’Esperance said. “I understand this is supposed to be pro-business, but this is really anti-business.”
42 OTHER AREA CONTRACTORS
The contractors from Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties that made the list are: Adirondack Custom Granite, C. Stevens Construction, D & D Home Improvements & Roofing, Gerry Trombley Construction, Greenthumb Landscaping & Snow Removal, JB Carpentry & Fencing, LLC, Kustom Contracting, LaVarnaway Construction, Laware Blacktopping & Sealcoating, Lee Remodeling, Morrisonville Construction, Inc., Painters Plus, Provost Trucking & Blacktopping, Rand Hill Lawns, Relation Poured Concrete LLC, RJR Construction, Roto Rooter, S. Fillion’s Professional Painting, Sage Hill Custom, Saranac Hollow Construction, Trim’s Building & Remodeling, B & S Construction, Baer Interiors, Ed’s Concrete, High Peak Builders, Jonathan Pribble Excavating LLC, Larry Blanchard Construction, Nawakua Builders, Richard Patnode Plumbing and Heating, Rowe’s Landscaping, Sentinel Construction, Steven E. Fuller Excavating, Inc., Brockway’s Concrete Foundations, Inc., Brown’s Construction, Git ‘Er’ Done Services LLC, Greenwood Construction, Hot Stuff Heating, J.B. Construction, Richard Patnode Construction, Sawmill Construction, and T. Lamere Contracting.