If you've ever lost money to a contractor, you know how stressful that can be. But there's a little known pot of money that the state collects to reimburse homeowners who have lost cash to a contractor.
The Florida Homeowners' Construction Recovery Fund has paid millions to homeowners since it started. But the NBC6 Investigators found it isn't an easy process. Consumers say is too difficult for the average person to access on their own and many will wait years to find out if they'll qualify for the cash.
Maria Gonzales, a housekeeper in Sunny Isles said she's been waiting ten years. That's when she paid a $2,000 down payment to a contractor who promised to install hurricane shutters on her condo windows. But the contractor disappeared with her money.
"I thought they were going to do a good job but in the end we were tricked and scammed," Gonzales said.
Gonzales recruited help from her daughter-in-law, Michelle Carpio. The two were able to get a state order revoking the contractor’s license.
During that process, Carpio found out about the Florida Homeowners' Construction Recovery Fund. In 2012, she applied to get her mother-in-law's money back. The money for the fund comes from a surcharge added to building permits and reimburses up to $50,000 if a homeowner loses money and meets certain criteria.
- Contractor was licensed
- Court judgment in your favor
- Prove no other means to collect
"I thought it was great," Carpio said. "I said great. I told her you might get your money back."
But ten years since writing the check and four years since applying for the money, their request is still pending.
When the NBC6 Investigators reached out to the state fund, a spokesperson said a letter was sent to Gonzales requesting additional paperwork from the family. They also said they never received the letter. After our phone calls, the two now have the needed documentation and plan to submit it soon.
"We don't know if she's going to see her money back. We're trying to see if there's anything that we can do," Carpio said. "It will certainly take the bad taste out of our mouth."
More than 1,000 people have applied since 2010 to get money from the fund. 33 percent are still pending because they need to submit additional paperwork with the state. 29 percent of those who have since 2010 have gotten money from the fund. $6,469,690 have been paid out since 2010.
"I am happy with what we got," Cashel said.
Fort Lauderdale's Ed Cashel received $50,000 from the fund after he said his contractor took his money and left a mess behind.
"The process, and there's one word for it and it's burdensome, extremely burdensome and expensive," Cashel said.
He's grateful for the money but said the process to finish the work and get his money reimbursed took him more than two years. He had to refinance his home twice, take out a home equity line of credit and pay an attorney $17,000.
"The whole recovery fund needs to be looked at by legislators because it really needs revision. It really needs to have customer friendly documentation," Cashel said.
Attorney David Durkee said the fund is an important safety net for consumers but has too many legal hoops to jump through.
"There's no sense in creating a pot of gold for victims to go to and knock on the door and try to get there if it's guarded by barbed wire. That makes no sense," Durkee said.
Durkee would like state legislators to take a look at the process.
"They need to make procedures that are understandable and procedures that an ordinary consumer can do by themselves," Durkee said.
A fund spokesperson said changes have been made over the years to make the process easier for homeowners to file claims and there are robust resources online to help.