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Post date: November 21 2000

Jefferson County Home Contractor To Pay Refunds

Attorney General Spitzer today hailed a decision by a Jefferson County judge to bar a home improvement contractor from the construction business in-state and to order needed refunds for his victims.

Justice Hugh A. Gilbert of Jefferson County State Supreme Court upheld Spitzer's lawsuit against John C. Uhlein, owner of Uhlein Property Services and Contracting, a Watertown roofing, siding, and additions contractor. The lawsuit alleged deceptive business practices, fraud, and violations of the New York State Home Improvement Contractor Law.

"A statewide sweep conducted by my office earlier this year confirmed the need for consumers to be very cautious when choosing a home contractor," Spitzer said. "The success of this lawsuit demonstrates the need for aggressive oversight of the home improvement industry to protect consumers' rights and investments and to preserve the reputation of the industry against unscrupulous firms."

In July of this year, Spitzer's office filed a lawsuit against Uhlein charging that he failed to complete work in a satisfactory manner, failed to repair defective work or complete work after taking money from customers, violated a state law that requires contractors deposit customer funds in escrow accounts, failed to pay small claims court judgements against him, and other violations of consumer protection laws pertaining to contractors.

In one instance, Uhlein accepted $37,000 of a $46,000 contract from a consumer to construct an addition to his home. After beginning the project, Uhlein abandoned it incomplete, leaving the home in worse condition resulting in damage to the exiting structure. The consumer was forced to pay a different contractor an additional $37,000 to fix the work, cover the costs to remove the construction debris, and pay a claim made by one of Uhlein's suppliers. When the consumer requested a refund from Uhlein, he refused and instead filed a lien on the consumer's home.

In issuing a decision on this case, Justice Gilbert ordered Uhlein to pay over $40,000 in restitution, barred him from doing business as a contractor in New York State unless he posts a $100,000 performance bond, and directed him to pay $400 in civil penalties.

This case was handled by James O'Rourke, Assistant Attorney General In Charge of the Watertown Office.

Individuals with complaints about home improvement contractors are encouraged to contact the Attorney General's consumer help line at (800) 771-7755.