How to Deal With Contractor Theft
LESLIE: Now we’re going to take a call from Harlan who has a question regarding an unlicensed contractor.
Harlan, did you have a situation?
HARLAN: Oh, yes.
TOM: (chuckles) Oh, yeah.
TOM: What happened?
HARLAN: I got kind of duped. I trusted this gentleman and he came out to do an appraisal on doing a roof repair that I had a roof leak. And he said he needed $400 down payment, which was half of the money to be paid, to buy materials and so forth. And I did that, which should have been my first clue. And basically, he was supposed to come out the following Monday and do the repairs and then he called me up that day and after I had initially called him and asked him why he wasn’t there, he gave me this cockamamie story that his tools were locked up in somebody’s house and so forth. And then I found out, subsequent to that, that he was unlicensed. So then the whole thing kind of snowballed and I told him that I didn’t feel comfortable with this situation; I needed to cancel the contract. He says, “Whatever,” hangs up the phone.
Calling him a few more times, I finally get him on the line and told him I need to get my money back and he said, “Well, I can only give you so much because I have to get some money for my time to come out and do the appraisal and then restocking fee of materials,” which I found out he never purchased in the first place and so forth.
TOM: OK. Stop right there, OK. Here’s what you need to do. You need to forget everything you’ve just done. You need to go down to your local police department and you need to sign a complaint for theft because that’s what this is. It’s theft. And if your contractor shows up, takes money for a deposit and doesn’t do the job, it’s theft. It’s the same thing as you holding somebody up or mugging somebody or stealing property. It’s theft. So you go to the police department, you sign a criminal complaint against this contractor, you make them go to court, and you get your money back and that’s all there is to it. Don’t waste time, don’t play his game. It’s theft. That’s what you need to do. And that’s the best way to deal with this situation.
And you will find that contractors that will jerk you around forever in a situation like this and play all kinds of crazy games, if they think for an instant that they’re going to have a criminal charge successfully prosecuted against them, they’ll give you their money back because it’s the path of least resistance.
HARLAN: OK, criminal complaint.
LESLIE: Now Tom, where can he look to find a licensed contractor in his area to make sure this doesn’t happen?
TOM: Well, it’s going to vary by area. Some states license contractors, some states regulate contractors. But you know, even the best regulatory programs it’s still buyer beware. And if you ever have somebody do this to you, it’s just theft; it’s all it is. The guy’s a thief and you need to sign a criminal complaint against him and you need to make him come to court and get your money back.
HARLAN: See, his business card said that he was state-certified and that just …
TOM: Well, that could be part of what comes out in court. But I’m telling you, he’s not going to like this. And if you get a real smart and real cooperative desk sergeant, he’s going to call this guy up and he’s going to say, “This is Sergeant O’Toole and we have ourselves a situation here.” You know? Because he’s not going to want to put the court through it. And sometimes even that telephone call from the desk sergeant is enough to get the guy to give you your money back.
HARLAN: Well, I’m hoping. I already talked to the Hillsborough County sheriff’s department, which is the county I live in in Florida – just in the Tampa Bay area – and they told me that they wouldn’t go to do anything. They said it was a civil matter and I should …
TOM: It’s not a civil matter. The man stole money from you. You do not take no for an answer. Go file a theft complaint against this guy.
HARLAN: I will do that.
TOM: He stole your money. OK? It’s not a civil matter. It’s not a contract dispute. He never did the job. And thanks so much for calling us at 1-888-MONEY-PIT.
LESLIE: So bottom line, Tom, is you’ve got to get references; you’ve got to check those references; you’ve got to ask them a lot of questions and really find out if the people who’ve used that contractor were pleased, did they get the job done, did they do it on time.
TOM: And don’t put so much money down up front. I mean there’s no point in giving the guy half the money up front when he hasn’t even shown up to do the work; especially for a small repair job like that.
You know, anybody that’s in business – especially in the roofing business – is going to have the basic materials available and they shouldn’t have to have that kind of money up front. And if somebody takes your money for a deposit and doesn’t do a job, it’s called theft and you need to prosecute them for that theft. And if enough people do that, contractors will stop doing it to people because the word is going to get out.
Harlan, thanks again for calling us at 888-MONEY-PIT.