(WSVN) - She hired a contractor who told her she didn’t need a permit for the job, but the city cited her because she didn’t get the permit. It’s happened to many South Floridians, so how can you get it straightened out? Find out in tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

The purchase started with a smile.

Marilyn Serrania: “Very exciting, we were loving it. We’re still loving it.”

But then…

Marilyn Serrania: “We’re a little upset and depressed about what we just went through.”

When Marilyn and her partner bought this house in North Miami, the inside was in great shape. The outside needed a little work.

Marilyn Serrania: “So, that’s why we wanted to do an awning, a fence, gardening and landscaping, that kind of stuff.”

Their friends recommended an awning company. The owner came out.

Marilyn Serrania: “We asked him repeatedly to tell us about the permit. We’ve never owned a home before, and he kept insisting that we did not because of this type of awning, we did not need a permit.”

They paid $3,200, and it looked nice. Unfortunately, code enforcement said it looked illegal.

Marilyn Serrania: “The city came and gave us a citation for putting an awning without a permit.”

An inspector told Marilyn she could not even get a permit for the awning because there was not enough setback to meet the North Miami code. Therefore, she had to take it down or be fined.

Marilyn Serrania: “I was in shock. I was blown back. I couldn’t believe that this was happening.”

Marilyn contacted the owner of the awning company.

Marilyn Serrania: “He kept insisting that the type of awning he installed did not require a permit. He doesn’t want to give me back my money.”

When Marilyn hired the contractor, she was impressed by him. Not anymore.

Marilyn Serrania: “So, he lied to me. He just basically looked at me in the face and told me, ‘You don’t need a permit.'”

The awning was removed and sits in her yard while her $3,200 sits in the contractor’s pocket.

Not the kind of welcome Marilyn wanted in her new neighborhood.

Marilyn Serrania: “Can I get a refund because he told me that I did not need a permit? And it turns out, I do need a permit, and the city won’t even allow me to put the awning because I don’t have the setbacks.”

Marilyn has the questions. Got the answers, Mr. Finkelstein?

Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: “It’s the contractor’s job to know if a permit is required, and it’s their job to know if it won’t be issued because the awning would not meet the city code. This contractor apparently didn’t know either of those things, and since he couldn’t do the job legally, he has to return Marilyn’s $3,200.”

We contacted the owner of the awning company, who is also a general contractor.

We reminded him as a licensed contractor, he could be fined or lose his license if he was reported for doing unpermitted work. He then decided to give Marilyn her $3,200 back.

Marilyn Serrania: “He came in. He gave me my full refund. He apologized.”

Howard Finkelstein: “This is why you hire a licensed contractor. If they mess up, you can file a complaint to the county, city or state, and they can take the contractor’s license away. When they know that could happen, it gives them the incentive to do the right thing and make the customer happy.”

Marilyn Serrania: “Yes, definitely, without your help, I would not have gotten a full refund.”

Marilyn got her money and, in a way, got a free lesson about home ownership.

Marilyn Serrania: “I definitely learned from this experience to not take anyone’s word for what needs to be done. Do your own research and go to the city and find out exactly what you need to do.”

Glad we could help, and another thing: check with the county and state to make sure the person you hire has their own license, and they are not working under someone else’s license. We see that a lot, and you can be in a bad spot if something goes wrong.

The links to check contractor’s licenses or to file a complaint against one are down below.

Someone throwing shade at you? Contracted a headache trying to deal with them? Permit us to help. We don’t need a license to help, just your permission.

To see if contractor is licensed or to file a complaint:

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

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