Consumers filed 357 complaints against home improvement contractors in Westchester County last year, making it the largest complaint category handled by the county’s Department of Consumer Protection.
Most of the complaints involved contractors working without a license in violation of county law, according to Gary Brown, director of consumer protection.
“Unlicensed contractors are a menace to consumers,” Brown said. “While hiring a licensed contractor is no guarantee of satisfaction, many of the most serious complaints — involving shoddy work or failure to perform any work at all — involved unlicensed contractors.”
The county beefed up enforcement action last year through sweeps in which authorities charged 121 contractors with being unlicensed. The department also increased penalties for repeat offenders and seized the vehicles and tools of unlicensed contractors, action that is permitted under a new seizure/impound law.
Officials credit the “zero-tolerance” stance to helping to boost the number of licensed contractors in Westchester to record levels of more than 7,600 last year.
After home improvement contractors, gasoline sales and furniture stores headed the list of more than 1,500 consumer complaints received by the county. Also on the top 10 list were specialty services (including collection agencies and home security companies), motor vehicle sales, heating oil companies, food stores, professional services, utilities and department stores.
The Department of Consumer Protection said that it collected more than $833,000 in restitution for consumers.
“In these tough economic times, we’re trying extra hard to make sure that consumers get their money’s worth,” County Executive Andrew Spano said in a written statement. “If you have a consumer problem, we can help.”