Tough news for those who want to save a buck or two using an unlicensed contractor–your work is probably illegal. In New York City, only licensed contractors may pull permits, which are necessary for basically every type of construction work other than minor repair work. Although unlicensed contractors may charge less, those savings will be summarily negated if the Department of Buildings discovers your work was done illegally. At best, you’ll face fines, and at worst, you might have to rip out the entire project.
Permits aside, the price break you might find with an unlicensed contractor is easily outweighed by the protections hiring a licensed one offers. For one, being licensed ensures that the contractor has at minimum several years’ of experience in his trade. There is no such guarantee with unlicensed contractors, and you may end up hiring someone who barely knows what they’re doing. Additionally, it’s easy to do a background check on licensed contractors. The Department of Buildings’ Building Information Search (BIS) allows you to look up licensed contractors to see if they’ve ever been issued violations.
Finally, licensing also provides you with an avenue of recourse if the contracting work has problems. You can file a complaint with the government about a licensed contractor, and if something goes wrong, you can apply restitution from the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Home Improvement Contractor Trust Fund. If he’s unlicensed? Tough luck–you have no recourse unless you take him to court.