Winning games isn’t the only difficulty Robert Saleh is having right now: In the midst of his first season as head coach of the National Football League’s New York Jets, Saleh has found himself engaged in a major payment dispute over renovations to his newly purchased home in Morris County, New Jersey.
According to a November 8, 2021, filing, Saleh is suing contractors Meijer Construction, Inc. and Washington and Park for work done on his recently-purchased home near the Jets’ Florham Park practice facility, citing charges of negligence, fraud, breach of contract, and unjust enrichment.
Allegedly, after purchasing a home in New Jersey and being introduced to the owners of Meijer Construction and Washington and Park by a realtor, Saleh agreed to work with them on renovations, selection of furniture, and “built-in designs” for aspects of the home.
However, the filing claims that these goals quickly went south, as Saleh’s home was reportedly left unlivable after months of work, and replacement designers and contractors were hired to correct and redo the work done to the home.
“It was widely and publicly reported that Mr. Saleh signed a multi-million-dollar contract with the Jets to become its new head football coach,” the filing noted. “[Meijer Construction] preyed upon Mr. Saleh and his presumed wealth, and his intense focus on his new job as head football coach, by undertaking a series of shoddy, fraudulent, incomplete and defective renovations in the Saleh’s home, without permits, without insurance, and in most cases without a signed contract or agreement by Mr. Saleh.”
Additionally, the filing notes that the contractor “gouged Mr. Saleh with excessive invoicing and billings,” with an investigation by the Saleh family apparently discovering that Meijer Construction had overbilled for the work on the project, with Meijer Construction even allegedly billing Saleh for materials that were used only on other projects.
An example given notes that two exterior doors that Meijer Construction billed Saleh $19,000 for only cost between $9,000 and $10,000 — with the filing further claiming that “Meijer Construction had never even sought out, let alone obtained, approval from the homeowner’s association for the installation of these exterior doors.”
The filing claims that by August 2021, Saleh had paid Meijer Construction $146,215.38 for the work, but that a survey of the work performed approximated that the total value of the work and materials was actually closer to $29,000.
“If you believe your contractor is overcharging you, it’d be wise to review the contract and their invoices to identify where the overcharges are being made,” said attorney Matt Viator. “And, providing a formal, written response to the contractor’s billing could help to keep things above board and also generate documentation that could be valuable later on.”
However, Viator notes that these types of cases are hard to deal with, though, and workmanship claims are especially difficult: “unless the contractor lied about the price or schedule with the intention of drawing the project out and overcharging, a fraud claim wouldn’t hold much water. It’s extremely common for construction projects to go beyond schedule and over budget, and they often do for perfectly valid reasons.”
Despite this, Viator continues to note that there are avenues that can be explored in these cases, as when a project goes over budget or the initial estimate, “delay claims or a breach of contract claim could absolutely be on the table.”
Missteps by contractors could put them in a position with no power to get payment
Regardless of the quality of work done, a properly licensed contractor would have the power to claim work done in a project like the one this dispute surrounds — but these contractors are treading on difficult ground.
For example, Saleh’s filing notes that Washington and Park submitted a change order of over $57,000 to Saleh for kitchen cabinetry and design work which was refused, leading to the company’s removal from the project.
However, as the filing specifies, “Despite engaging in the sale and provision of home improvements, neither Ms. Tobin, Ms. Shehadi nor Washington and Park are licensed home improvement contractors, certified interior designers, or architects in the State of New Jersey.”
Though New Jersey law allows unlicensed contractors to file mechanics liens, it’s not advisable to do so, and this directly set Washington and Park up to potentially be in violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud and Contractor Registration Acts.
This issue doesn’t stop with Washington and Park, either. Notably, the lawsuit notes that Saleh and Meijer Construction never entered into a written contract, with Meijer Construction sometimes failing to even submit charges to Saleh in a written fashion.
This puts Meijer Construction in a particularly difficult place due to the presence of the written contract provision that exists in New Jersey — the company likely won’t have a way to file a lien against the property if they wish to.
As Levelset’s Scott Wolfe Jr. notes, in New Jersey, “a written contract between the party providing work and the hiring party is an absolute necessity in order to secure lien rights. Contractors, suppliers, and other parties can only claim a mechanics lien for funds mentioned in written contracts.”
“If it’s not in writing…then you don’t have lien rights! Simple as that,” Wolfe continued.
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