Contractor installing replacement windows. Photo: Andersen Windows

Unlicensed home improvement contractors may be subject to stop-work orders under a code amendment being considered by Riverhead officials.

The code amendment would give town building inspectors and code enforcement officers the power to halt work being done by unlicensed home improvement contractors.

Riverhead does not require home improvement contractors to be licensed by the town, but Suffolk County does. The code change being considered by the town would require all home improvement contractors working in the town to have the required county license or be subject to a stop order.

Suffolk County requires anyone engaging in the home improvement contracting business to obtain a county license. Home improvement contracting, under county code, includes repairs, remodeling, alteration, improvement or addition to residential property. The definition inclues a broad range of work: from painting and carpentry to HVAC, roofing, flooring, swimming pool installation and landscaping. It does not include the construction of a new home.

Licensed contractors are required to pass a written test and to maintain liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

There were 151 active home improvement licenses in the Town of Riverhead in 2018 and 9,107 countywide, according to the Suffolk County Department of Labor, Licensing, and Consumer Affairs.

County inspectors issued only five violations for unlicensed home improvement contracting in Riverhead last year.

Violators are subject to a civil penalty of up to $750 for a first violation and $1,500 for any subsequent violation. The county doesn’t issue stop-work orders.

Brett Marascia, a licensed home improvement contractor, complains of unfair competition by contractors who are not licensed and insured. Photo: Peter Blasl

Brett Marascia of Riverhead, a licensed home improvement contractor, brought the issue to the town last year.

Unlicensed contractors undercut people who comply with the law, Marascia said in an interview. Consumers choose the contractor offering the lowest price and all too often find themselves coping with shoddy workmanship — or worse, such as contractors taking deposits and not returning. Then they have to hire another contractor to “do the job the right way,” he said.

It happens all too often, Marascia said.

He has asked the town to consider the code amendment to allow the town building inspectors and code enforcement officers to issue a stop-work order where the contractor does not hold the required Suffolk County license.

Marascia said he’s frustrated because he’s been asking the town to consider such a code for more than a year now. He said he worked with former building inspector Brad Hammond to draft the proposed language for consideration by the board, but they’ve never taken up the proposal.

The code has been under consideration by the town board’s code revision committee, Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said. They asked the newly formed business advisory committee for a recommendation.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, who with Jens-Smith is the town board liaison to the business advisory committee, said the advisory committee members were concerned that the draft code amendment was overly broad and also concerned it would make the homeowner liable for penalties if work is done by an unlicensed contractor.

The advisory committee took the matter up at its most recent meeting, co-chairman Martin Sendlewski said.

“It was written with very broad strokes,” Sendlewski said, “to the point where it covers just about everything — So does this mean i can’t have the kid next door mow my lawn?” he asked.

“Some people don’t think it’s really necessary, since Suffolk County already has a license requirement,” he said.

Sendlewski, an architect, said he thinks “anything that requires a building permit from the town should require proof of a county license,” but the code shouldn’t go beyond that.

Such a limitation would exclude trades that the county requires a license to conduct, like landscaping, that do not require a building permit from the town.

“It needs to be looked at much more thoroughly,” Sendlewski said.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.