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Getting Payback


13. You Get Food Poisoning
Call 311 and use the phrase “suspected outbreak” to help speed along a Department of Health inspection. Next, call the restaurant’s manager and request reimbursement for your meal and medical costs. Not cooperating? Take them to small-claims court. Fill out the forms at, and collect your evidence: a doctor’s letter outlining your illness and its cause, any medication required, meal receipts, and proof of missed work. “Ask for the maximum $5,000 amount,” says lawyer Jonathan Minkoff. “Judges are very favorable to individuals who come in well organized.”

Hassle Log
Call to 311: 5 mins. • Pleading with restaurant manager: 20 mins.
Filling out small-claims forms: 1 hr.
Court hearing: 30 mins.
Total Time: 2 hrs.

Worth the effort?
Yes. The potential four-figure payout is well worth two hours.

14. A Year After a Contractor Renovates Your Bathroom, the Wall Tiles Start Falling Off
Check your contract to see how long your contractor warranties his work. If it falls within the time limit, he should fix the problem for free. If he refuses responsibility, contact the Department of Consumer Affairs (call 311), which has the power to revoke the contractor’s license. The DCA’s formal mediation process, usually done by phone, can take weeks. If you’re at an impasse, or the contractor magically disappears, the DCA can dip into a housing trust that doles out up to $15,000 per claim. Even if the warranty is up (or the contractor isn’t licensed), you may still have some protection. According to the city’s Consumer Protection Law, a contractor can’t disclaim liability if his workmanship was shoddy. (Falling tiles a year after a renovation qualifies.) The city can seize an unlicensed contractor’s vehicle until he complies and gets a license.

Hassle Log
Review of contract: 30 mins.
Negotiation with contractor: 15 to 30 mins. (depending on how heated it gets)
Call to 311: 15 mins.
Waiting for arbitration or filing for repayment from DCA: 2 wks. to two mos. (or more)
Total: Two wks. min.

Worth the effort?
Yes. You’ll need the money to pay a second contractor to fix the first one’s mistakes.

15. A Tailor Destroys Your New $400 Dress
Present the original receipt to the alterer and demand that he reimburse you. (If you don’t have a receipt, you might be stuck.) If you have the evidence but the tailor won’t pay, file in small-claims court. Look up the owner’s name on the state’s list of registered businesses ( If the tailor, or any small-business owner, for that matter, doesn’t settle up when he receives his judgment notice, there’s one last strategy. You can do some detective work by seeking a court-issued information subpoena to figure out the tailor’s bank, then contact a local sheriff or marshal to go get the money. Keep in mind it’s a long shot. “Sometimes people make payments on their own,” says Joseph A. J. Gebbia, deputy chief clerk of Civil Court. “But if they don’t, and you don’t know where their money is, it’s difficult to collect.”

Hassle Log
Arguing with tailor: 15 mins.
File claim: 20 mins.
Wait for court appearance: 4 to 6 wks.
Court appearance: 30 mins.
Bank-account search: Could be hrs., could be days
Total: 4 wks. min.

Worth the effort?
Given the amount of time required, probably not.


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