(WSVN) - Before COVID, a South Florida woman signed a contract to have a pool built. Now the company is raising the price by a staggering $16,000, saying it’s all because of COVID. Can you do that and blame it on COVID? It’s why the call went out to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Growing tropical fruit is hard work.

Nancy German, New Asian Fruit Market: “Passion fruit. It’s going to be ready in about five days.”

Now add in a shipping company that Nancy owns, sending that exotic fruit all over the world.

Patrick Fraser: “Those are gorgeous.”

Nancy German: “It’s very nice fruit, and we grew the company 400% in a year, and after that, we kept going.”

Clearly, Nancy can’t get it all done in an eight-hour day.

Nancy German: “I work every day, 15 hours a day minimum, to keep it up.”

Then, two years ago, way back in September 2019, she decided to reward herself and her family.

Nancy German: “This was where my pool was supposed to be.”

Nancy hired a pool company, signed a $43,000 contract and says she put down an $8,000 deposit.

Nancy German: “Everything was fine. We talked all the time, and he sent me more information.”

Then COVID hit in 2020.

Nancy German: “Then he said, ‘Imagine with this COVID, my health is not the best,’ and I didn’t blame him, you know? ‘You need to take care of yourself.'”

Eleven months after Nancy signed the contract, they made progress when she got the septic tank and drain field inspection the contractor required.

Nancy German: “After that, he said, ‘This is not what we need. We need a certification.'”

The contractor wasn’t done. He said that because of COVID, the cost of materials had risen, and the price of the $43,000 pool he had agreed to build had gone up.

Nancy German: “About $16,000 more. It was out of my budget.”

Nancy said, no matter how many hours a day she worked, she couldn’t justify spending $59,000 for a pool.

Nancy German: “‘Can I get my refund back?’ They said, ‘no,’ that they cannot refund because, ‘We have a contract.'”

As a businesswoman, Nancy says, jacking up the price of a pool while refusing to return the deposit is just wrong.

Nancy German: “It’s not a way to run a business. You have to be fair with your customers.”

Well, Howard, Nancy signed a contract to build a pool for $43,000 before COVID. Can the company blame COVID and dramatically raise the price to $59,000?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “They can raise the price, but they cannot force you to accept the new contract. In this case, Nancy can say, ‘Forget the pool,’ and the contractor has to return her deposit.”

I spoke to the owner of the pool company. He says he would not return the $8,000 deposit because he spent some of that money preparing to build the pool.

When I asked what he had spent the money on he said, “I won’t divulge that.”

He added, if Nancy wanted to cancel the contract in writing, he would then see what amount of money he could return to her.

But Nancy should not do that, because the contract says, if she cancels, she loses the entire deposit.

Howard Finkelstein: “If the pool builder refuses to return the money, this contract requires you to go to mediation and try and settle it. In other cases of COVID-related increases, you might have to sue in court.”

Mediation is good news for Nancy, who wants that $8,000 back.

Nancy German: “I think I’m entitled to get the money back, because they haven’t done anything yet. They haven’t started anything.”

Now, isn’t a signed contract a binding document? Yes, but contracts signed before COVID have created a legal loophole for jobs that have had dramatic price increases for materials that could not have been expected. Any other contract you cannot break, but of course, that doesn’t change the fact that, Howard says, the pool company owes Nancy her deposit. We will keep an eye on this one for you.

Exotic problem taking the juice out of your life? Ready to make a splash? Contact us. We will pool our ideas and build a solution for you.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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