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Board Approves New Rules for Home Contractor Licensing to Protect Workers & Consumers

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White Plains, NY — The Westchester County Board of Legislators, on Monday night, approved changes to the county’s law governing the licensing of home improvement contractors to strengthen protections for workers.


The new provisions, passed unanimously, explicitly require the county to consider judgements against contractors for non-payment or under-payment of employees when examining new license applications and license renewals.  Applicants also will be required to disclose any business-related judgements against them -- particularly those involving non-payment or underpayment.


Legislator Nancy Barr (D - Harrison, Rye Brook, Port Chester), lead sponsor of the bill, said, “Although most licensed contractors are responsible and pay their employees appropriately, there are some unscrupulous individuals who take advantage of their employees, illegally denying them the wages they have earned. This legislation, which I introduced in conjunction with Legislator Christopher A. Johnson, will help weed out unethical contractors and ensure that local workers are getting paid what they are due so that they can support themselves and their families. And homeowners will have peace of mind knowing that the contractors they hire are reputable and treating their employees fairly.”


More than a million dollars a year are recovered for thousands of workers in the Hudson Valley who have suffered from so-called “wage theft” under complaint proceedings with the New York State Department of Labor.


The new local provisions give the county’s Department of Consumer Protection an explicit role to play in weeding out unscrupulous contractors who exploit their workers.


Jim Maisano, Director of the Westchester County Department of Consumer Protection, said, “These updates to our laws addressing home improvement contractor licensing will help us do a better job of screening contractors during background checks to protect consumers. Our goal is to identify potential problems for certain contractors before they happen. The passage of this legislation strengthens our ability to block contractors from working in Westchester who commit wage theft against their employees.”


The changes also include new protections for consumers, requiring more disclosure about specific proposed work in writing in home improvement contracts, and adding underground sprinkler systems and interior painting to the list activities considered to be “home improvements” under the law.


In addition, the new provisions raise the fee contractors pay for two-year licenses from $300 to $400 on January 1, 2019, and from $400 to $500 on January 1, 2021.  The fee increases will bring the county’s fee structure more in line with those of other counties. Nassau’s current rate is $600 every two years; Suffolk’s is $500 every two years.  The last time the fee was raised in Westchester was in 2002 when it went from $250 to $300. Prior to that the fee had not been raised since 1992.


The increased fees will help pay for stepped-up enforcement against unlicensed contractors.


Board Chairman Ben Boykin (D – White Plains, Scarsdale, Harrison) said, “These are sensible changes that allow the county to better protect everyone.  Workers and consumers are protected from dishonest contractors who would take advantage of them.  Honest contractors get a more level playing field to compete on. We’re always sensitive about raising fees, but the increases still keep the licensing cost at or below those in nearby counties, and the new revenues will give the county the resources it needs to increase enforcement against unlicensed contractors.”


For text of the bill, the committee report and the legislative history visit: https://bit.ly/2FtX9gE

 

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