The attorneys general for New York and New Jersey cracked down Aug. 15 on 216 home improvement firms, fining them hundreds of thousands of dollars for alleged violations of state consumer protection laws.

New York reached a settlement with 211 contractors for violating the state's Home Improvement Contracts Law,  Attorney general Eric Schneiderman announced. Each contractor paid penalties and costs ranging up to $1,500, he said.

The New York news came the same day New Jersey announced the permanent shutdown of five home improvement companies controlled by two relatives. The companies will pay $315,000 as part of a settlement in which the firms were accused of making substandard repairs--or failing to repair at all--on chimneys, roofs, and gutters owned by 86 New Jersey consumers.

“We alleged these defendants used coupons offering free inspections and low-priced services to gain access to homes, where workers damaged chimneys, roofs or gutters to coerce consumers into paying for expensive repairs,” acting attorney general John J. Hoffman said in a statement. “We also alleged that senior citizens, many of whom were on fixed incomes, specifically were targeted, making the conduct of these defendants even more reprehensible. This settlement returns money to those were victimized by the [defendants] and their companies.”

The New York cases involved smaller fines but more companies. The cities where the companies were located ranged from Binghamton (48 firms), to Buffalo (31), Poughkeepsie (27), Rochester (28), Syracuse (16), Utica (18), Watertown (35), and Putnam (8). The firms were accused of widespread violations of state law, "including failure to provide written contracts or honor the most basic terms of consumers’ work agreements," Schneiderman's announcement said.

New York's General Business Law requires that every home improvement contractor, before beginning work, must provide the consumer with a written contract, signed by both parties, which sets out certain specific information and disclosures, including proposed stating and completion dates, the work to be done, and the materials to be provided.

The law also requires that any advance deposits taken by the contractor must be placed into an account at a banking institution separate from the contractor’s other funds.