The Appellate Division recently gave a Westchester home improvement contractor a hard lesson, one that hopefully all of you already know...if you don't have a home improvement license and you perform home improvements, you CANNOT sue for money due under the contract! In Racwel Construction, LLC v. Manfredi, the Court found that Racwel did not have a home improvement license and, since the Westchester Administrative Code requires anyone performing home improvement work to be licensed, Racwel could not maintain its claim for the $147,270.00 it claimed it was due under the contract. This is a tough lesson and one that each of you performing home improvement work should take careful note of. Westchester is not the only county requiring contractors performing home improvement work to be licensed. Nassau and Suffolk Counties have similar requirements as to many towns, villages, etc. (such as South Hampton). If you don't have a license, don't perform home improvement work. If you are not sure whether your work qualifies as "home improvement", speak to a construction attorney to be safe.
Another interesting point in the Racwel decision is that the home owner's counterclaims were also unsuccessful because their valuation expert did not see the condition of the house prior to the repairs. The home owner had claimed that he was overcharged by Racwel but the court did not give any weight to the testimony of the home owner's valuation expert because there was nothing in the evidence to suggest that the expert had knowledge of the house before the repairs and therefore could not determine how much work went into demolition. Be careful when you pick your expert and make sure he or she has properly evaluated all necessary information to form an educated opinion.
Vincent T. Pallaci is a partner with the New York law firm of Kushnick Pallaci, PLLC where his practice concentrates on construction law.