In an effort to protect New Yorkers from unscrupulous home improvement contractors, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer announced a series of enforcement actions and educational forums for consumers.
“Home improvement fraud leaves consumers with empty wallets and ruined dreams,” Spitzer said. “My office will take aggressive action against home improvement contractors that make false promises to consumers and engage in fraudulent activity,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer’s enforcement actions include lawsuits against seven individuals in Greece and their more than 20 home repair businesses as well as court-approved settlements with four individuals who operate at least seven home improvement companies in Monroe and Steuben counties.
In an effort to protect consumers, Spitzer’s Rochester Regional Office also has scheduled two public forums, one each in Steuben and Monroe counties, to educate consumers about the laws that protect them and steps that can be taken to avoid fraud.
Spitzer’s investigations reportedly revealed that each of the home improvement companies engaged in deceptive business practices and fraud, failed to protect customer payments by depositing them in escrow accounts as required by law, failed to pay Small Claims Court judgments obtained by aggrieved customers, and violated a state law that requires written contracts that include important consumer disclosures and provisions. In some cases, the home repairman failed to perform any work whatsoever after collecting full or substantial fees.
In filing the lawsuits, Spitzer’s office is seeking court orders banning the operators from the home improvement industry unless they file performance bonds to protect future consumers. The lawsuits also seek full monetary restitution for all injured consumers and an order forcing them to pay the Small Claims Court judgments.
In addition, Spitzer’s office is requesting an order forcing the operators to: provide the Attorney General’s office with a full accounting of their home repair contracts and lists of customers; to pay civil penalties for their violations of law; and to pay court costs.
The settlements obtained by Spitzer’s office represent more than $123,000 in restitution to 34 consumers. In addition, collectively, the settling contractors agreed to pay $18,000 in civil penalties and costs and to the state. The consent orders also require each of the operators to post performance bonds in order to continue operating in New York State.
In 2003 alone, complaints to the Attorney General’s office related to home repair and construction totaled nearly 2,250 across the state, including nearly 260 from the Rochester-area alone. The Rochester Regional office has received 173 complaints against home contractors and repairmen so far this year.
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