Vetting contractors and subs can help, but issues might still pop up on any project. When issues do arise, it’s (unfortunately) pretty common to hear about some industry members dodging calls and texts. During disputes over billing, change orders, or quality of work, contractors and subs have been known to play it incognito. But not like this…Recently, a Florida contractor faked his own death to avoid property owners.
The full story can be found at the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a great read (there’s a reason they’ve won 12 Pulitzer Prizes!), and there were some details we had to leave out.
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A Pennsylvania couple decided to move to their vacation spot of choice in Florida. They ended up purchasing a home in a retirement community that needed repairs and remodeling. The search began for the right contractor, and the goal was to finish repairs before they were ready to move. They found a contractor working in the neighborhood, and after vetting him, they came to a handshake deal (you should put everything down in writing! Problems are compounded by oral contracts). The couple went back home to Pennsylvania.
We’ve seen bad contractors in Florida before.
Fast forward a few months. The contractor requested extra fees, but claimed that the project was nearly complete. However, the wife had an opportunity to go down to Florida to check on progress and found that the project was far behind schedule. The contractor vowed to get back on track.
As the contractor continued working, a tropical storm interfered – the contractor informed the couple that there was some damage to the home and that $1,000 of repairs were needed. The owners and contractor argued, but eventually payment was made anyway.
A few months later, the owners made another visit to the property. There was nothing to show for the extra payments they’d made, and doubts began to creep in about the project finishing in time. The contractor again said he’d get back on track, but he requested more funds. He claimed the house would be move-in ready in a few short months.
When move-in day came, the issue came to a head. The couple found the house in unlivable condition. Outraged, the owners texted their contractor and received the following message:
“This is Marc’s daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry.”
The couple felt for the contractor, but put their focus on where they would live. They ended up renting a nearby home and hiring other contractors to complete the project. Upon inspection, the new contractors determined that the original contractor was not licensed- the building was not up to code, no building permits had ever been issued for the project, and the emergency repairs were not completed.
The couple looked for their contractor’s obituary, but never saw one. After driving by the contractor’s house one day, they found several cars parked in the driveway. They didn’t think much of it, but they still told their neighbors in the retirement community. In a scene ripped straight from Seinfeld, the neighborhood began its own investigation. Not long after, a neighbor alerted the couple that the contractor was actually alive.
The husband, a Vietnam veteran, began staking out the contractor’s home. The husband’s stakeouts went on for several weeks with nothing to show for it. He pressed on, though, and eventually he saw the contractor get into a car and drive off.
The owners filed a complaint with the local licensing board and brought the issue to the sheriff, all to no avail. Out nearly $25,000, the owners decided to file a civil suit, which is pending.
However, there is good news – the Tampa Bay Times decided to send the contractor a text, pretending to need work done. The contractor replied, inquiring about the job (he even identified himself as the man they were looking for). The Tampa Bay Times then gave him a call to ask about the lawsuit, but he claimed they had the wrong number. The next day, the number was disconnected.
Vetting contractors and subs could not be more important. The contractor from this story was highly recommended by the neighbors, and the owners even requested to look at prior jobs. But that wasn’t enough.
Honestly, that’s more thorough than many homeowners, but it’s best to rely on more than word of mouth. Had the couple asked for a license number, they could have quickly discovered there was a problem. Luckily, through the owners’ persistence, this contractor will probably get his due. Considering the contractor’s driveway looked like a used car lot, they might actually get that $25,000 back, too. What’s more, Florida has very tough penalties for unlicensed contractors.
Vetting contractors and subs is important, but so is understanding local construction laws. Head over to our Construction Payment Resources for info on your state’s laws.