Most contractors know, or should know, that if they are performing "home improvement" work within Suffolk County then they must have a home improvement contractor's license issued by the Suffolk County Department of Consumer Affairs. If you have no license, in addition to being fined and cited for the violations, you waive your right to payment (and your right to file a mechanic's lien). However, what few contractors realize is that three towns within Suffolk County have their own home improvement licensing process and requirements.
Assuming the contractor did pay attention during the application process for the Suffolk County home improvement contractor's license, he or she was tipped off that three towns in Suffolk have their own rules. The application materials make it very clear that the Suffolk County home improvement license does not apply to the Townships of Southampton, East Hampton or Shelter Island. This is because those towns have their own home improvement license rules.
Under New York's Municipal Home Rule Law, a County's (such as Suffolk) authority to require a home improvement license is limited to those towns where the town itself does not have its own licensing or regulatory scheme. This results in a situation where a contractor performing home improvement work may have a Suffolk County home improvement license but not one for Southampton, East Hampton or Shelter Island and, if work is performed in those towns, the contractor is out of luck and risks non-payment.
However, this is not a clear black and white rule. Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island and Suffolk County do not have identical definitions of home improvement work. For example, Shelter Island specifically says that a home improvement license is not required for landscaping work while the Suffolk County Code says that a home improvement license is required for landscaping work. This means that in addition to knowing that the Town requires its own license, you have to know whether your work qualifies as home improvement in that particular town. If you are performing work in Southampton and have a Southampton home improvement license, but the work you are doing is not specifically regulated by Southampton, but is regulated by Suffolk County, then you need a Suffolk County license to perform the work notwithstanding that the work is in Southampton and you have a Southampton home improvement license. On the other hand, if the work is regulated by Southampton and the work simply does not require a license, then no license is required even if Suffolk County requires a license for that work.
I know - its complicated, sometimes absurd, and makes no sense. But that is the law in New York, especially when dealing with construction and lien rights.
Vincent T. Pallaci is a partner with the New York law firm of Kushnick | Pallaci, PLLC where his practice concentrates on construction law.