Unlicensed Contractor Preying on Elderly in Queens — Thwarted

June 12, 2015
Itkowitz PLLC recently represented an elderly couple in Queens (87 and 84 years old survivors of concentration camps in Europe).  They had a flood in their home due to a frozen water pipe, and hired a contractor to provide emergency services to clean up the mess.  The contractor ended up doing almost as much damage as the flood.  They paid the sum that was estimated before the work began, but did not wish to pay for extra, unexpected billing from the contractor, especially when half of the the work was not completed and the other half was not completed in a competent manner. 
Shortly thereafter, the couple received a number of harassing calls from the contractor and from collection agencies.  A person at the collection agency told the couple’s daughter that there was a WARRANT OF EVICTION and was on his way over to evict her parents.  The couple’s son hired Itkowitz PLLC.
The first thing we checked and ascertained was that the contractor was not licensed to conduct home improvements in Queens, which is a complete bar to their recovery of any further monies.
In order to safeguard and protect consumers against fraudulent practice and inferior work by home contractors, New York laws, pursuant to CPLR § 3015(e), require such businesses to be licensed.  For example, the New York City Administrative Code § 20-387 provides that, “no personal shall perform or obtain a home improvement contract as a contractor . . . without a license.”  
The contractor in our saga was licensed in Nassau County, but not in Queens County.  Second Department Appellate Division case law has held that a home improvement business and/or entity must have a license in the county where it is rendering services, even if the entity maintains its business in another county.  See Cappadona v. Salman, 228 A.D.2d 632, 633 (2nd Dept. 1996). 
Itkowitz PLLC swooped in with a letter to the contractor and the collection agency.  The contractor’s principal called up and personally apologized.  Obviously, the contractor took no further action.  The couple had causes of action against the contractor and the debt collection agency for violation of debt collection laws.  They chose, however, to let the matter end by obtaining a refund.