Family Struggles to Recoup Money from State-Run Fund

Daniel and Lisa Stern applied for the money from the state's Homeowners Construction Recovery Fund after losing money to a contractor they had paid to build a fence at their new home.

"The purpose of the fence is really to keep our son from going to the water," Lisa Stern said.

They hired a licensed contractor to put up a fence and paid a deposit of $1,950.

They say the contractor told them the company ran into financial trouble and they wouldn't be back out to start the work.

They also refused to refund the money the deposit money they paid.

The Sterns hoped they could recoup their money through the state's Homeowners Construction Recovery Fund.

In Florida, a small percentage of all building permit fees is collected in a fund used to reimburse homeowners whose cases meet certain criteria.

In all cases, the contractor must be licensed with the state and there must be a court judgment in your favor. You must also prove there are no other ways to collect.

The Sterns believed they met these qualifications.

"I filed the claim and one week after we got our case back, the one that had been pending for two months, and said, we are not going to regulate this matter," Daniel Stern said.

Their claim was deemed ineligible.

"They won't support the consumer when they are mistreated by someone that is licensed by them," Daniel Stern said.

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation told us, "Mr. Stern's claim was deemed to be ineligible for acceptance by the Florida Homeowners' Construction Recovery Fund. In Mr. Stern's case, the construction or installation of a fence is not a regulated activity pursuant to Chapter 489 of Florida Statutes. The only way a claim can be denied is if it is heard before the Construction Industry Licensing Board (CILB). Since his claim was ineligible pursuant to Chapter 489, his claim was never presented to the Board. Claims are deemed eligible based on the scope of the work contracted for, not the license category of the contractor. Finally, the claimant has the right to file suit against a contractor. It appears that in Mr. Stern's case he has obtained a small claims judgment so it would be best to seek the advice of legal counsel regarding his potential civil court remedies."

The Stern's are just one of approximately 90 homeowners whose claims have been deemed ineligible for reimbursement since January 2018.

In the last three years, of the money available in the fund, less than half of it was paid out each year.

The state's fund isn't the only place homeowners can turn.

Broward County also has a fund for someone who has lost money to a licensed or unlicensed contractor.

"For Broward County, the fund is funded through the citations we issue to the unlicensed contractors," Broward County's Delroy Aiken said.

Aiken investigates consumer complaints for the county.

He says in the last three year, the county has paid out more than $200,000 to homeowners.

To qualify, homeowners must file a complaint and then it's up to the board that governs that license to determine if you are owed restitution up to $5,000 per claim.

But there are restrictions.

"Beware, if you apply for a permit, you become the contractor, therefore you are not eligible for restitution from the trust fund," Aikens said.

The Sterns feel like their case slipped through the cracks and deserves a second look.

"Covering things that are within the letter of the law and not necessarily in the spirit of the law," Daniel Stern said.

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