How to Avoid a Bad Contractor

(WSVN) - This may have happened to you. You hired someone to repair something, you gave them a big deposit, and they disappeared. When it happened to one woman, she turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Marcia likes her house, but she loves her backyard.

Marcia Akins, repairman disappeared: “Because I like the outdoors. It’s so rewarding to grow something and then see it mature and bloom.”

Nice plants around a big pool … that became a great big headache.

Marcia Akins: “It had black algae, and no matter what I tried, I could not get it to go away.”

Marcia found a pool company and told them what she wanted to be done.

Marcia Akins: “It has to be cleaned and then remarcited. The light had to be fixed, and there were some cracks near where the water comes through, and he said he would fix all that.”

The price: $3,000. Marcia gave the guy half up front and had to get a credit card to do that.

Marcia Akins: “I went and had to obtain a credit card from Chase, and I qualified and I got it.”

After the pool guy got the $1,500, he then came up with 1,500 excuses to avoid doing the work.

Marcia Akins: “Oh, every member of his family died. He had all these deaths. ‘Well, my brother died, my brother-in-law died, my father died, my uncle died.'”

Then one day, he showed up, dropped off some acid to wash the pool, a couple of buckets, and left again.

Marcia Akins: “No matter how many phone calls, texts, he never showed up.”

After four months of looking at this, Marcia gave up and hired another company to do the work.

Marcia Akins: “They did it within a week.”

She then was able to get in touch with the first guy she hired and asked for her $1,500 back. Turns out, he now had selective amnesia.

Marcia Akins: “He didn’t even recognize my name. Your wife took my deposit with a credit card, and you don’t remember who I am?”

The pool now looks good, and it should, since Marcia has had to pay another company to do what the first company never did.

Marcia Akins: “It’s like paying double. I’m an elderly person on a fixed budget. I cannot afford all that.”

Well, Howard, is Marcia entitled to get her money back from the first pool guy since she fired him?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “In this case, the law is not complicated. Since the repair guy didn’t do much of anything for several months, Marcia had the right to fire him and get all her money back.”

We spoke to the owner of the pool company. He said he would give Marcia $700 back, and he did.

Then he said he would return the other $800 by the end of March. He did not, and did to us what he did to Marcia: didn’t answer his phone or return messages.

Sadly, getting ripped off by a repairman or contractor is all too common in South Florida, but you can protect yourself.

Howard Finkelstein: “First, make sure they have license in their name and are not using someone else’s license. Secondly, don’t pay half up front. Make a small down payment and pay as the work is done. That way, if they walk away, you have the money to finish the job, and if they say no, tell them goodbye and find someone else.”

Marcia Akins: “I love it, because when it gets hot after the garden, you just jump in and cool off.”

Marcia is enjoying her pool thanks to the second contractor, and she wants the first pool guy to know she is heading to small claims court to get her other $800 from him.

Marcia Akins: “That is outright stealing.”

And Marcia, we will be with you when you go to small claims court to get the rest of your money back.

Now, some repairmen only need a county license, and others, like contractors, need a state license. The reason you only want to hire licensed people: if they don’t do the work, you can file a complaint, and they could lose that license.

To check to see if someone is operating legally, plus more tips on how to protect yourself, the links are at the end of this Help Me Howard story. Check them out before you give anyone a dime.

Someone constructed a problem that’s draining you? Prepare to repair it. We will pool our talents and try to make a splash for you.

How to protect yourself from a bad contractor:
myfloridalegal.com/pages.nsf/Main/7F03C51D308A4E9185257F77004BE16B

Check to see if they have a state license and are insured:
myfloridalicense.com/DBPR

County License, Miami-Dade:
egvsys.miamidade.gov:1608/WWWSERV/ggvt/bnzawbcc.dia

County License, Broward:
dpepp.broward.org/BCS/Default.aspx?PossePresentation=SearchForContractorLicense

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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