Consumer Complaints Trigger Home Contractor Investigation
Attorney General Spitzer today announced an enforcement action against nine home contractors who bilked homeowners across upstate New York on home improvement jobs that ranged from driveway paving and roof installations to additions and siding.
The home improvement lawsuits seek restitution of more than $200,000 for dozens of consumers from Westchester County to Albany and westward through Syracuse, Buffalo and Watertown. The lawsuits also ask that judges order contractors to post performance bonds before they are allowed to resume working in the home improvement industry.
Spitzer used the occasion to warn consumers across the state that while the vast majority of home improvement contractors are hard-working, reputable and professional, consumers should seek multiple bids on a job and references before signing contracts and paying deposits on home improvement projects.
"Summer is the height of home improvement season and the action my office is taking today should serve as a warning to consumers to exercise caution," said Spitzer. "It should also be clear from these lawsuits that my office will diligently investigate and prosecute those contractors who betray the trust placed in them by trusting homeowners."
The action follows a case last week in which the Attorney General filed a criminal lawsuit against a father and son team of home improvement contractors in the Buffalo area for systematically defrauding 10 consumers on garage and pole barn jobs over a two-year period.
The Attorney General's office received nearly 2,000 consumer complaints regarding home improvement contractors and construction and repairs in 1999. Through May 2000, the office has recorded 745 such complaints.
Consumers who believe they have been defrauded by a home improvement contractor are encouraged to call the Attorney General's Consumer Fraud Hot Line at 1-800-771-7755.
CASES IN THE JULY 2000 HOME IMPROVEMENT SWEEP
ALBANY COUNTY: Case filed in Albany County Supreme Court against John Pratt, of 307 Grand Ave., Saratoga Springs and 35 Burgoyne St., Schuylerville, who is a painting and carpentry contractor working in Albany and Saratoga counties. The Attorney General's office has received complaints about Pratt from seven customers charging that he failed to perform or complete work, failed to provide refunds or remedy defective work, and failed to pay small claims court judgements, among other complaints. The lawsuit seeks $8,337 in restitution, a $30,000 performance bond, $5,600 in civil penalties and $2,000 in costs. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Barbaro.
BROOME COUNTY: Case was filed in Broome County Supreme Court against Quinton Bullis, 1310 Monroe St., Endicott, doing business as Sonrise Criterion Developers and Remodelers and Sonrise Criterion Developers, among other business names. Based on the complaints of four consumers, Bullis was sued for failure to complete work in a timely fashion after taking customers' money, failure to provide refunds, and failure to keep customers' money in an escrow account, among other charges. At the judge's request, the Attorney General has submitted an order seeking $14,312 in restitution and civil penalties and costs of $4,000. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Michael Danaher.
ERIE COUNTY: Case filed in Erie County Supreme Court against Custom Design and Construction Inc. and Gary and Gina Dulski, of 119 West Main St., Springville, who build new homes on property owned by customers. The company misrepresented the nature of the work it would perform, the kinds of accounting it would provide to customers, and the nature of their warranties. The company also used illegal contracts. The Attorney General's office has complaints from six consumers and is seeking $69,000 in restitution, a $500,000 performance bond plus penalties and costs. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey.
ERIE COUNTY: The Attorney General's office announces a settlement in a case against Churchill Builders of 40 Bidwell Parkway, Buffalo, and of 3571 Niagara Falls Blvd., North Tonawanda. The settlement requires Churchill Builders to cease doing business. Alleged violations against the company include illegal invasion of trust funds and failure to pay subcontractors and suppliers. The Attorney General previously settled with the real estate agents who represented Churchill Builders and obtained $40,000 in restitution for consumers. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey.
DUTCHESS COUNTY: Case filed in Dutchess County Supreme Court against Richard Lambert, of 266 East Chester St., Kingston, a paving contractor doing business as Lambert Paving in Dutchess and Ulster counties. Lambert is charged with performing shoddy work, failing to remedy his defective work, failing to give refunds, using illegal contracts, and failing to pay small claims court judgements against him. The Attorney General's office has 13 complaints against Lambert and is seeking some $30,000 in restitution, a performance bond of $100,000, a court order directing him to pay all outstanding small claims judgements as well as civil penalties and costs. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General G. Nicholas Garin.
ONONDAGA COUNTY: Case filed in Onondaga County Supreme Court against Jonathan Bailey, Leonard M. Davis (a.k.a. Tony Davis), Sarah B. Carelli and Ruth Bailey, doing business as Leigh Remodeling Company and other names -- with various addresses, including, 909 Bellevue Ave., Syracuse; 250 Harrison St., Syracuse; and 32 West State St., Binghamton -- and Leonard M. Davis doing business as Advanced Home Remodelers of 43 Woodworth Rd., Central Square.The company installs windows, siding, roofs and remodels bathrooms and kitchens in the Syracuse and Binghamton areas. The Attorney General's office has 15 consumer complaints alleging that the company did shoddy work, failed to complete work or repair defective work, demanded payment before it was due, and failed to keep customer funds in escrow accounts, among other complaints. The lawsuit seeks over $30,000 in restitution, a $100,000 performance bond as well as penalties and costs. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin.
ONONDAGA COUNTY: The Attorney General has filed notice that a case will be filed in Onondaga County Supreme Court against Paul Conklin, doing business as Divine Enterprises Inc., H&R Home Improvements and P&K Construction of 5185 Joseph Drive, Syracuse. An investigation revealed that the contractor did shoddy work, failed to complete work in a timely fashion, failed to repair defective work, failed to put customer money in an escrow account, and failed to pay small claims court judgments, among other complaints. The lawsuit will seek restitution, damages, penalties and costs and a permanent injunction prohibiting him from engaging in the home improvement business. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin.
ONONDAGA COUNTY: In 1998 a case was filed in Onondaga County Supreme Court against Richard J. Dame, of 419 Tower Rd., Syracuse, doing business as Precison Roofing Company. The lawsuit charged Dame with price gouging by charging excessive prices for roof repairs after the 1998 Labor Day storm as well as using illegal contracts. The Attorney General's office sought $5,285 in restitution, and $13,500 in civil penalties and costs. On July 10, 2000, Onondaga County Supreme Court Judge Thomas Murphy granted the relief requested. The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Judith Malkin.
JEFFERSON COUNTY: Case filed in Jefferson County Supreme Court against John Uhlein of 209 Paddock St., Watertown, a roofing, siding and additions contractor also doing business as Uhlein Property Services and Contracting. The lawsuit charges Uhlein with failing to complete work in a workmanlike manner, failing to repair defective work, failing to complete work after taking money from customers, failing to keep customer funds in escrow accounts and failing to pay small claims court judgements against him. The lawsuit seeks over $40,000 in restitution, a $100,000 performance bond as well as penalties and costs. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General James O'Rourke.
ORANGE COUNTY: Case filed in Orange County Supreme Court against Christopher Rooney of 15 Elm St., Newburgh, also doing business as Renaissance Renovation and CRC Home Improvement. The Attorney General's office has received nine complaints from consumers charging Rooney with failing to complete work after taking money from customers, failing to provide refunds, failing to keep customers' money in escrow accounts, and failing to pay small claims court judgements against him, among other complaints. The lawsuit seeks over $15,000 in restitution, a $50,000 performance bond and payment of all outstanding small claims court judgements as well as penalties and costs. The case is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Doris Morin. The City of Newburgh Police and the Ulster County District Attorney's office assisted the Attorney General's office in identifying additional victims.